Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: The hidden costs of ‘quarantine’

McGill University is a proud Montreal institution which, according to Wikipedia, “counts among its alumni 12 Nobel laureates and 142 Rhodes Scholars.” And then there’s Georgia Rep. Betty Price, who tried to undo all of her alma mater’s acclaim when she made folks wonder what school granted her a medical degree.

The physician-turned-politician was attempting to make an anti-gay political point during a House committee meeting earlier this month, but wound up disgracing modern medicine when she, in the most passive-aggressive way, suggested locking away people living with HIV.

“I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it,” Price said, even though she didn’t want to. Price is married to former US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is also a physician and holds the inglorious distinction of being the first cabinet member deemed too inept to serve the Trump Administration.

Someone seriously needs to check on this couple’s past patients to make sure their treatments for chest pains or asthma didn’t include ether or witch’s blood.

Price displayed a provocative ignorance about the state of HIV/AIDS. Price wasn’t talking about caging everyone living with HIV, only those who are not in treatment because “in the past they died more readily and then at that point they are not posing a risk.”

Little known medical fact: People who have HIV but are not in treatment in 2017 die as “readily” as people who had HIV but were not in treatment in 1987. There have been no breakthroughs in the healing power of doing nothing.

The folks who are not dying “more readily” are those who are on treatments, most of whom are undetectable, and they pose no risk to public health – as in zero. Just last month, the CDC recognized there is “effectively no risk” of folks with an undetectable viral load transmitting the disease, as proven in studies involving thousands of positive/negative couples engaging in unprotected sex without a single infection occurring.

The confirmation that HIV-positive individuals in treatment are non-communicable, along with equally strong research that proves HIV-negative gay men who take pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, have “effectively no risk” in contracting the disease provide the most encouraging battle plan to fight this disease since it invaded humanity. Sadly, Price’s retrograde statement was also a prophecy of GOP opposition to this promising strategy.

“I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition,” was the crux of Price’s comments, overshadowed by her suggestion that quarantine might be a cheaper treatment.

Public-private collaborations have indeed helped thousands of HIV-positive individuals gain access to life-saving medicines, and HIV-negative gay men enroll in PrEP regimens. But rather than seeing public health benefits, religious conservatives like Price view these programs as taxpayer-subsidized sodomy.

They will come after them as irrationally as they attack birth control, both in public policy and private insurance choices, widening the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision that allows companies to invoke their “sincerely held religious beliefs” to withhold benefits. Their strategy to fight HIV ranks their moral superiority a higher priority than saving lives, and they’re more open to paying for the removal of HIV-positive individuals than the treatment of them.

Unfortunately, although many heterosexuals think quarantining folks sounds wacky, our cultural understanding of HIV/AIDS remains stunted in the mid-’90s. It doesn’t take a Nobel laureate or Rhodes Scholar to know there’s a market for the political potions that evangelicals are brewing, and which Price spilled across the table.