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Well, at least we're talking about it

05.19.2008 by André Natta · → 4 Comments

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“Nobody is trying to deny the seriousness of getting this under control, but does it have to be on a billboard?”

– Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford

Yes, as a matter of fact Larry, it does.

But apparently making Jefferson County residents aware of a syphilis outbreak is more of a detriment to our efforts for attracting new businesses into the region than a necessity to make sure that it does not become worse than it already is. In case you didn’t see Saturday’s Birmingham News story, two of our elected leaders feel as though bus advertisements calling attention to the fact that we have the #1 concentration of syphilis cases in the United States were portraying a bad image for the region (among other things).

While they are only removing ads announcing the outbreak off of the sides of buses, it takes away a valuable tool available to the Jefferson County Department of Health in this battle of educating the public, one that they should be commended for. It was doing what it was supposed to do – catching the attention of those that saw the signs even if only for a few seconds at a time.

If there is anyone that understands the importance of catching the attention of people in short, simple sound bites, it is the current mayor of the city of Birmingham. Mayor Langford provides just enough information to pique our interest and then he moves on to the next 6 or 7 things on his agenda. We stay just confused and bombarded long enough for the next idea to be planted and then the questions that need to be raised never are. It’s a shame, since some conversation may actually make some of these ideas better. In this case it’s a real shame that he doesn’t realize that the Department of Heath is simply taking a page out of his play book.

He’s done something again, only this time it’s something that could become a bigger issue if not handled properly. I’d like to know if he and Commissioner Fine-Collins plan to have the health department remove the billboards and television ads as well? If so, we’re going to use taxpayer dollars to remove ads that were partially paid for by taxpayer dollars trying to educate the taxpayers about a serious issue — like the logic?

Maybe he has a secret plan to use that bully pulpit that mayors possess to make sure that more people are aware…


Maybe spending taxpayer dollars to sweep one of our regions issues under the rug could be better spent making sure that we dealt with the outbreak appropriately, making sure that everyone was aware of the issue.

The problem with both of those solutions is that they sound too logical.

As a city recognized as a national leader in medical research, maybe the idea of making people aware of the issue constitutes our area hospitals and medical leaders doing the job that they are best known for. And it’s not like the ads haven’t had an effect, it has encouraged more people to go in and be tested for symptoms.

We can’t call the kettle black without making sure that we air all of our dirty laundry as well. We’d actually had a story prepared about the outbreak more than a month ago; however we were waiting for a list of current solutions that were being undertaken to be completed before putting it up on the site. We felt as though that was most important – making sure that solutions were presented. Unfortunately, most of us are only now writing about the issue because Mr. Langford and Ms. Fine-Collins finally gave us a reason to do so.

So we decided to run the story this morning (if you didn’t come here directly from the post, head on over to the Newsstand to take a look). Even if you feel as though this issue cannot hit you personally, it is important enough to the overall health of our region to take a good, hard look at it and what can be done to assist with handling it.

So maybe recent stories about Birmingham’s potential are just not powerful enough to overcome this outbreak as selling points, at least in the eyes of our city’s chief executive. But I think I’d rather have folks coming in to join this transplant in a movement to make the city a better place than have them wonder why we hadn’t accepted the situation and admitted to it up front — completely.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

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no estoy loca
no estoy loca

Who cares if the ads are obnoxious? We ought to care a lot more about people being informed and getting tested than about how obnoxious the ads might be or about what out-of-town business people and visitors will think of us. If just ONE person sees those ads and thinks "Hmm, I might ought to get tested" and goes on to be successfully treated for syphilis, it is worth whatever it costs us. If we were having an influenza outbreak or some other non-STD outbreak, would there be this concern about our reputation or image? This is just as much of a public health crisis. This is really bugging me, because it's got a faint whiff of Tuskegee to it. Did we learn nothing? Do not ignore syphilis! We must do everything we possibly can about this or we are no better than the PHS/CDC who left those patients untreated.


I was unaware of the problem until I saw one of these bus ads. This was despite the fact that I regularly watch and read local news and consider myself very up-to-date on B'ham issues. While the syphilis outbreak doesn't affect me personally, I can see where it would affect a lot of other people. Poor choice, Mr. Langford. The effects of taking down the billboards will have more longterm negative effects on B'ham the leaving them up ever would.


Making Jefferson County residents aware of a syphilis outbreak through billboards helps those that don't read or watch their local news, i.e. Teens and the poor who are most at risk.


I'm kind of glad they're taking them off. Those ads were obnoxious.