WASHINGTON -- To meet the challenge of AIDS, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today every U.S. household -- about 107 million -- will receive a brochure that explains the disease simply and in blunt details.
Health Secretary Otis Bowen said the mailing is the government's largest on a public health issue and Americans will begin receiving copies of the eight-page brochure, 'Understanding AIDS,' by May 26.
'The mailing is in response to the unprecedented challenges of AIDS,' Bowen said in an interview.
'The brochure lays out the facts of what everyone needs to know. It's written in plain simple, easy, straightforward language that is at about the 12- to 13-year-old reading level. It doesn't mince words, yet it is in good taste. It stresses proper behavior and it stresses values and responsibilities.'
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a fatal disease that destroys the body's ability to fight infection. It strikes mainly homosexuals, bisexual men and intravenous drug users because the AIDS virus is transmitted through the mixing of bodily fluids.
The department's Centers for Disease Control report more than 60,000 Americans have developed the disease and nearly 35,000 have died. Persons infected with the AIDS virus are estimated between 1 million and 1.5 million. The blue-and-white brochure, which Bowen estimates will take about 10 to 15 minutes to read, is divided into short sections that describe the disease, how it is and is not transmitted and behaviors that put persons at risk of getting AIDS. There is a brief section on condoms.
Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who has been criticized for promoting use of condoms to stem the spread of the disease, includes a message in the brochure that urges Americans to read and 'talk about it with those you love.'
Bowen said the government is trying to reach every American with the mailing, including those transient persons who are most at risk.
About 110 million copies of the brochure are being printed in English to be mailed to 107 million U.S. households and residential post offices, as well as to Guam, the Virgin Islands and to boards of health and voluntary agencies that have the most contact with the homeless and other transients.
Another 4 million will be printed in Spanish to be mailed to households in Puerto Rico and distributed widely through other non-mail sources.
The mailing, required by Congress last December, is expected to be completed by June 30. The total cost of the project is about $17 million.
'We're going to do everything we can to make sure it reaches everyone,' said Bowen. 'We also know that those who are hard to reach have relatives this will go to and they may have some ability to reach them and to try to get the message to them.'
The brochure was developed over a five-month period, beginning with focus group meetings in cities around the country, as well as consultation with 288 organizations interested in AIDS, to determine what information people needed most.
To ensure accuracy, the booklet was reviewed extensively by government physicians, led by Assistant Health Secretary Robert Windom, Koop and CDC Director James Mason.