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
"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
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