continued A man with a bias against some white scientists is Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammad, who, as health minister for the Nation of Islam gave a talk at the Statewide Black Health Conference in 1992. He was invited by African-American organizations including the Golden State Medical Association, the California chapter of the NMA, of which Dr. Hood was president at the time. Dr. Muhammad made headlines by claiming that the AIDS virus was genetically engineered by white scientists in the 1950s to annihilate black people. Further, the May 31 San Diego Union-Tribune reported, "Muhammad said his theory is not only credible, white AIDS researchers are preventing recognition of a cure. The Nation of Islam has acquired exclusive rights to market a compound, oral dose interferon alpha, after a Kenyan doctor reversed the course of disease in a group of patients there, Muhammad said...
"Interferon alpha has shown no clinical benefit in several studies, according to a federal research panel. But Muhammad said those researchers didn't administer the drug correctly in a conspiracy to keep secret something that could help -- just as they kept penicillin from blacks infected with syphilis in the Tuskegee experiment. In that project, from 1932 to 1972 government researchers tracked the progress of syphilis in black men infected with syphilis but never administered treatment."
Dr. Hood and 61 other physicians sent the Union-Tribune a letter protesting the story. "Our feeling," he told me, "when you read the article was that the only one that talked about AIDS was Dr. Muhammad -- and all he talked about was the conspiracy theory.... Our concern about the article was we didn't feel it was balanced.... There were also other presenters there."
But can you counterbalance a conspiracy theory like Dr. Muhammad's?
"We felt that folks needed to discuss it," Dr. Hood replied, "get it out in the open. There is a lot of paranoia about treatment and vaccines in the African-American community."
Dialogue begins at home, but as future president of the NMA Dr. Hood is getting set to jet all over the country stirring up "an intense dialogue" about racism. "Not so that people feel guilty about it but so that they begin to do something about it," he said. Hood believes that the dialogue should include chapters of the American Medical Association and other medical associations. "I believe they should start sponsoring colloquiums and forums throughout the country. And I think that this dialogue needs to start taking place in federal government." Dr. Hood noted that "the National Medical Association has on a regular basis been called to testify before Congress. We were involved in the various health initiatives of the Clinton administration."
Ultimately, the NMA hopes to see governmental monitors for racial bias in health care. "To my knowledge, there's never really been any racial monitors put in; as a matter of fact, we've always tried to run from that." But studies such as the lung-cancer surgery discrepancy -- the latest in a slew of studies with similar findings of racial bias since the '70s -- have convinced Dr. Hood that monitors must be put in place. "I'm raising the issue that we need to start developing them," he said. "I think they need to be directed at outcomes."