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Letters to the editor

May 08, 1997

Letters to the editor

The AIDS drug industry

To the editor:

Vice President Al Gore announced recently in Washington, D.C., the planned extension of Medicaid benefits to those seeking treatment for HIV infection with "protease inhibitors."

Thus, those who are diagnosed HIV-positive will receive the same benefits as those already sick with AIDS symptoms.

According to David Rasnick, who has contributed to the design of protease inhibitors, they are ineffective against preventing or treating AIDS, even though they do block HIV protease and thus stop HIV replication. They are ineffective, he says, because those with AIDS are "sick from a variety of non-contagious factors, not HIV."

For those with access to the Internet and the World Wide Web, I recommend they visit: http://alumni.umbc.edu/~akoont1/tmh/hivcont2.html to find out more.

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It is noteworthy how the once much-touted DNA slicers - AZT, ddI, and ddC - have fallen out favor in more recent times. Subsidies for the treatment of AIDS with these extremely toxic cell-killing drugs, however, continue. But they do not compare to what is spent on the so-called drug "cocktails" - i.e., protease inhibitors which, despite their abundance, cost the patient/taxpayer up to $60,000 a year.

The subsidies extend beyond mere drug treatments which are known to be dangerous to the patient's health. People diagnosed with HIV can "retire" on a pension much higher than those on welfare, even if they are capable of playing in the Olympics (as in the case of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who, incidentally, went off AZT shortly after starting on it).

There's a whole industry built around providing services to those who test positive for antibodies against HIV and/or develop AIDS symptoms - i.e., the age-old diseases that have been classed by the CDC in the past decade or so as indicators of AIDS.

What all this does to the psyche of the HIV-positive individuals let alone the beleaguered taxpayers' pocketbook can't be at all good. It has to reinforce the view that that their days are indeed numbered and that there is nothing to look forward to but certain and undoubtedly premature death. That nothing could be further from the truth has to be completely lost on them in this hysterical environment.

Alan Koontz

Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The new way of farming

To the editor:

America's farming communities are coming alive with preparations for spring planting, and they reflect a spirit of optimism not seen in decades. Farmers have had a taste of freedom under the "Freedom to Farm" law, and they like it. This landmark measure - one year old last month - swept away 60 years of government-mandated land idling programs such as annual acreage set-aside programs, and micro-management of America's farms.

Growers may now plant for dynamic U.S. and global markets - rather than a government program - and are reaping the benefits. Farm income and export sales both set record highs in 1996, and another strong year is forecast for 1997. Farmland values continue to rise, and the value of farm assets relative to farm debt is the best in years.

Communities and businesses that depend on a robust farm economy - from farm suppliers, crop handlers and transporters, and food processors, to rural Main Street businesses - are operating at higher levels of capacity and profitability. Food manufacturers and exporters, in particular, are now getting the crop varieties in the volumes they need to serve customers, and they are paying premium prices to growers.

The environment also benefits under the new law. Elimination of nearly all planting restrictions permits farmers to adopt more crop rotations, which cuts soil erosion and reduces the need for chemicals, while presenting opportunities for longer term gains in productivity.

And the general public benefits consumers can expect to pay a declining percentage of their disposable income on food now that the government is out of the business of manipulating farm commodity prices. The Agriculture Department plans to cut up to 20 percent of its vast work force that is no longer needed to administer programs, and taxpayers will no longer bear the uncontrollable expense of farm entitlements which have been placed with capped, declining payments over seven years.

Paying farmers not to farm never did make much sense. The achievements of the new law make you wonder why it took so long to dump the old law.

Stuart Hardy

Manager of Resource Policy U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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