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ASHA Says Goodbye to C. Everett Koop

on Feb 27, 2013 | General | 0 comments

As February draws to a close we say adieu to the 2013 observation of National Condom Month. It seems fitting that we also take a moment to remember and say farewell to C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General who died on Monday, February 25.

Koop was the nation’s top physician from 1982-1989, which means he was directly in the spotlight when the AIDS crisis first hit. There was so much misinformation; people were afraid they would be exposed to HIV just from being in close proximity to someone with the virus. Early public campaigns tried to drive home messages we (more or less) take for granted these days: you won’t get HIV from eating in a restaurant, being heterosexual doesn’t mean you aren’t at risk and, yes, you can hug a loved one who has HIV with no worries.

Koop did much to put science front and center in discussions around HIV, first in a report on AIDS his office issued in 1986 and later with a HIV/AIDS education brochure mailed to each household in the U.S. He was a supporter of safer sex in a time when it took a good bit of political courage to do so.

For example, in a statement on the value of condom use in reducing the spread of HIV that he gave before a U.S. House Committee in 1987, Dr. Koop made his stance clear in the three quotes below. See how thoroughly he makes the case for using condoms:

  • “A condom must be properly used if it is to help prevent transmission of the AIDS virus. That is why I stressed in the Surgeon General's Report on AIDS that a condom must be worn from start to finish.”
  • “Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus, cytomegalovirus, Neisseria gonorrhea, Chlamydia trachomatis, Mycoplasma hominis, and trichomonal organisms are all transmitted in semen or vaginal secretions and condom use can reduce the rate of infection.”
  • Electron microscopic studies have shown that properly manufactured latex condoms are a continuous layer with no holes. Quality control procedures performed by condom manufacturers are stringent, and every condom is tested for holes.”

He made these statements over a quarter of a century ago, thus laying out the case for condoms as a critically important safer sex – and public health- tool. We owe Dr. Koop our thanks for having the courage to be so bold in a time when his words were not all that well received. We are diminished by his loss. RIP at age 96, Dr. C. Everett Koop.


--Fred Wyand



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