Emory Report

January 26, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 18

AIDS czar Thurman delivers
annual David Jowers lecture

Facing a packed Rita Anne Rollins Room Jan. 15, Office of National AIDS Policy Director Sandra Thurman told the overflowing crowd that while great strides have been made in dealing with the HIV virus, much more work remains to be done.

"We're at a critical juncture in the fight against this deadly virus," Thurman said in delivering the annual David Jowers lecture on AIDS. "With hope on the horizon, many Americans and also policy-makers yearn to believe the worst is behind us, yet the sobering truth is that the AIDS epidemic is far from over. With no vaccine and no cure in sight, we are actually far closer, I think, to the end of the beginning than to the beginning of the end.

"While we have good news about declining rates of death, we have no decline in the overall rate of infection," Thurman continued. "In this country alone, we are looking at between 40,000 and 50,000 new infections each year, and while we have a decline in rates of infection of gay white men, we have dramatic increases in women, people of color and adolescents."

A former director of advocacy programs with The Task Force for Child Survival and Development at The Carter Center, Thurman was appointed AIDS czar by President Bill Clinton last April. She served as director of AID Atlanta from 1988 to 1993, tripling the organization's size to 90 staff members and more than 1,000 volunteers.

In recognition of Emory's nursing school, which sponsors the Jowers lecture, Thurman spoke of the importance of nurses on the front lines of the battle against AIDS. In three areas-patient caregiving, education and advocacy-nurses can provide the leadership the country needs, she said.

In fact, Thurman said educating others about AIDS and HIV infection is the single most important thing individuals can do to help out. "There's this incredible assumption that people know about this disease," she said, "and the fact of the matter is they don't. We're in this amazing situation now where people are afraid to ask about it because they think they ought to know."

But apart from education, Thurman said nurses' traditional role in care provision is all the more important in dealing with AIDS, from early intervention to the last stages of the disease. "Some of the most brilliant and profound moments I have ever been privileged to witness have been among nurses, patients and their loved ones in the last moments of life."

Following her speech, Thurman entertained a lengthy question-and-answer session that covered AIDS issues as disparate as needle-exchange programs and the church's importance in the battle. Thirty to 40 percent of new infections are related to intravenous drug use, Thurman said, and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala is looking at granting funding to state needle-exchange programs providing they meet two criteria: that they do cut down on HIV infection rates and that they do not increase overall drug use. Thurman said Shalala would look at the latest research on those factors before making a decision.

Thurman added that the impact of HIV infection rates in developing countries is "really staggering," and her office is very concerned about the hold AIDS has on sub-Saharan Africa in particular. Recent global figures indicate some 5.8 million people worldwide carry the HIV virus; Thurman said her office expected the number to be closer to 3 million.

However, in his introductory remarks, James Curran, dean of the School of Public Health, said Emory is poised to make great breakthroughs in AIDS research. "Many people have referred to Atlanta as the 'public health capital of the world,'" Curran said. "Emory's major clinical facilities now care for well over 4,500 HIV-positive individuals. There are lots of pockets of [AIDS] research going on all over campus. We think Emory will soon be recognized throughout the country and the world for primacy in AIDS research."

-Michael Terrazas

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