Helms "Ashamed" Over Role in AIDS Fight
22 February 2002
-- In spite of -- or perhaps, because of -- his long-standing
and frequently vehement opposition to increased funding for
HIV prevention and AIDS treatment, Sen. Jesse Helms said on
Wednesday he was ashamed he had not done more to fight the
have been too lax too long in doing something really
significant about AIDS," Helms told hundreds of Christian
AIDS activists gathered for a conference in Washington.
"I'm not going to lay it aside on my agenda for the
remaining months I have" in office.
statement is extraordinary given the fierce opposition and
scorn with which the North Carolina Senator has treated
requests for government assistance in fighting the epidemic
over the course of his career.
Human Rights Campaign's David Smith said Helms comments were
"intriguing, coming from an individual who has done more
to ensure that the disease has gone unchecked and done more
harm to people with AIDS than any other person."
recently as 1995, Helms tried to kill the reauthorization of
the Ryan White Care Act, arguing against AIDS funding
increases proposed by then President Clinton.
government, he said, should spend less money on people with
AIDS because they got sick as a result of "deliberate,
disgusting, revolting conduct... We've got to have some common
sense about a disease transmitted by people deliberately
engaging in unnatural acts," Helms told The New York
made no mention of gay people in his comments Wednesday,
though he did say, "There is no substitute for the joy
brought by strong and healthy marriages. We must not hesitate
to share this truth" with people around the world, he
was adressing the Prescription for Hope conference, organized
by Samaritan's Purse, a world relief charity led by Billy
Graham's son, Franklin Graham. The group calls AIDS a disease
of "Biblical proportions" that requires a more
unified response from the world's evangelical Christian
Museveni, wife of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, also spoke
to the group and received praise from Helms for her anti-HIV
campaign based on "biblical values and sexual
purity." Citing First Lady Museveni's efforts, Helms
said, "I'm ashamed I've done so little."
surprisingly, Helms ignored Uganda's far more successful
efforts to combat the spread of HIV though its youth-targeted
sex-education and condom distribution programs that have
proven to be models for resource challenged countries across
the developing world.
aggressive prevention efforts have helped keep its infection
rates among the lowest in Africa.