The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control announced a new venture with the entertainment industry yesterday, just in time for World AIDS Day. The CDC’s program, called Business Responds to AIDS (BRTA), has the support of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, the Entertainment Industries Council and Hollywood Supports.Funded entirely by the CDC, and said to have been three years in development, BRTA’s centerpiece is a kit of brochures on three subjects: workplace policy, including pertinent legislation and insurance regulation; educating employees about AIDS prevention and responding to co-workers with AIDS; and resources for additional information about HIV/AIDS. Cost of the kit to employers is $ 25 to cover printing and distribution, said the CDC’s Ken Williams, who was in Los Angeles yesterday for the L.A. link of a teleconference to announce the program. Hosted by NARAS, the event took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and was attended by NARAS officials, record biz exex, a few representatives of AIDS service orgs, publicists and press. (Other teleconference locations were Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Boston.) Williams said the kit will be available by request from the CDC, which plans to market it through print and radio advertising, and a public relations campaign. The teleconference was the kickoff for the PR blitz, and was downlinked to local TV stations. Additionally, Williams said, national and local organizations have agreed to promote the BRTA kit. Those orgs are expected to include the aforementioned entertainment industry groups, as well as MGM/UA Communications, Lifetime Cable, the National Assn. of Broadcasters, Hill & Knowlton Inc., along with the National Urban League, the Magic Johnson Foundation, the Small Business Administration, AIDS Project L.A., the American Red Cross, and the Health Insurance Assn. of America, to name a few. Celebrity endorsements of BRTA have come from Paula Abdul, Morgan Brittany, Steve Guttenberg, John Forsythe and Estelle Getty. NARAS president Michael Greene suggested that implementing the CDC program could result in economic incentives and legal protections for employers, beyond BRTA’s humanitarian imperatives. He urged all employers to use it, “even if you’re a cold-blooded CEO who justs wants to cover his ass.” Greene also explained the entertainment industry’s unique responsibility in addressing HIV/AIDS, saying, “The entertainment industry can and must play a major role in this nation’s response to HIV infection and AIDS. We can do that through tolerance, by getting the medical facts straight, and in the way AIDS issues are portrayed in television, motion pictures and in music.” Though the CDC proudly showcased its supporters of BRTA yesterday, some of those backers admitted privately they were ambivalent about participating in the fed’s long-overdue workplace AIDS program. One supporter said of the CDC program , “It’s a small step in the right direction, too late.” The Beverly Hilton event also appeared to turn the AIDS epidemic into a theme party at times. Eight panels from the AIDS memorial quilt were used as a backdrop behind the dais. And red ribbons (commemorating people lost to AIDS) were disbursed like party favors. Larger red ribbons decked the BevHilton’s potted plants and lamps, in an ironic holiday counterpoint to the lapel ribbons. For all the hoopla, the CDC repeatedly stressed the ever more dire consequences of HIV on society. The CDC reported one in every 250 Americans currently is infected (one in every 100 men, and 1 in every 800 women). Within the next seven years, 40 million people worldwide will have HIV, and the potential worldwide economic impact could equal 1.4% of the world gross domestic product annually, according to the CDC. In the United States alone in 1991, the cost of AIDS to society was estimated at $ 66.5 billion.
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