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Emotions Hinder Disease Eradication

In a New York Times essay, journalist Donald McNeil writes, “To a doctor, all epidemics are objectively different … But to the mortals they mow down, all epidemics are emotionally alike – an onslaught of fear, awe, repulsion, stigma, denial, rage and blame – and doctors would be foolish to forget that.”

McNeil says that William Foege’s book “House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox,” Larry Kramer’s autobiographical play “The Normal Heart,” and a movie, “Life, Above All,” set in South Africa, “remind us how fragile life looks when the miasma is still swirling around our nostrils. That is, before our fear ebbs and we tumble back into indifference, as we have about swine flu, SARS and even AIDS.” He concludes, “In 1966, when the global effort to eradicate smallpox was declared, there were fewer than 15 million cases left. There are now 34 million cases of HIV infection. No one seriously discusses eradication. It’s not that the plan is a flop; it’s that there is no plan” (8/15).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.