The Guilford Community AIDS Partnership's act is now together and ready to go. Now it depends on acceptance by business, industry and the insurance industry.
Guilford County can't afford to start its babies out with death sentences.
So far this year, women giving birth in Guilford County have an HIV infection rate twice that of the rest of the state - five out of every 1,000 birthing women. For all of 1991, Guilford's rate was half again as high as the state's.When babies are born of HIV-infected mothers, they stand a 30 percent chance of being infected too. And of those who are infected, a whopping 80 percent will develop AIDS within their first two years of life.
If you ask Mary Fisher, the woman who visited Greensboro this week to help launch the Guilford Community AIDS Partnership, she'll tell you that AIDS is a death sentence. She speaks from personal involvement: A young mother, she has the HIV infection and has prepared herself for the worst.
With Fisher's visit, and certainly with the statistics that were presented this week by the new partnership, Guilford County citizens are slowly beginning to realize that AIDS and the HIV infection are our problem. Two thousand Guilford County residents are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus; each week five more people learn that they are infected.
AIDS attacks the spirit of a community. AIDS patients have to deal not only with their physical condition and their financial plight; they must also struggle against being judged and rejected.
Many AIDS cases occur in people who have inadequate or no health insurance. For those who do have coverage, the illness can make premiums across the board skyrocket. So everyone is paying the bill.
Tuesday morning the new Community AIDS Partnership brought together about 350 leaders to enlist their help in trying to prevent AIDS and in dealing better with the illness once it happens. It is relying heavily on the participation of corporations, not only for money, but for AIDS education programs for their employees. The programs could mirror their existing wellness programs.
The corporate sponsors who heard the powerful message at Tuesday morning's breakfast probably came away with a clearer idea how costly AIDS can be to them. But those who weren't present probably view AIDS as a distant threat.
In a sense, we all have to be sold on AIDS education. We know that AIDS is transmitted by exchange of body fluids, by sexual relations and by intravenous drug use. We want to know what, beyond that, AIDS educators are going to tell people in the workplace.
Mary Fisher said that her children sometimes climb into bed with her, and that occasionally they eat off her plate. A mother who loves her children wouldn't maintain such intimacy without perfect confidence in their safety. Workers, too, want to know how close they can get to their infected co-workers without taking a risk.
Companies need incentives to invest in AIDS education. One might be lower health insurance premiums.
The AIDS Partnership won't succeed unless it has the support of many of those institutions that now influence health-care costs. The county's hospitals are already involved; insurance companies need to be, too.
Bill Clinton has accused insurance companies of making a killing on health insurance. They could help shake that image by encouraging AIDS research and education programs. Most of all, they can ensure that people won't lose their coverage by reason of contracting AIDS.
We may not yet know how effective AIDS education is, but we have to try it. If we don't find out that a young woman is infected with HIV until after she is already pregnant, that's too late.