Information explaining the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission has been pulled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Also gone: a section called "programs that work," which focused on HIV and highlighted several proven programs that involve condom use.

 

HIV prevention groups says Bush administration is targeting their work

October 1, 2002

by Laura Meckler, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has pulled information about the effectiveness of condoms from a government Web site and is engaged in a "witch hunt" against those who promote condoms in the fight against AIDS, several groups charge.

They argue that the administration is hostile to HIV prevention and sex education that is not based on "abstinence-only," which discourages all sex before marriage and bars discussion of the benefits of birth control or condom use.

The advocacy groups said Monday they are particularly concerned about federal agency audits of AIDS groups now under way, examining their finances and programming.

"It's a campaign to censor science and research, and it's a campaign to use government auditors to intimidate opponents of the administration on key policy issues," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a group that promotes education about birth control and condom use.

The administration says it is simply making sure that tax dollars are properly spent.

"We're looking at ourselves to see what we need to do to be efficient and effective," said Claude Allen, deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services ( news - web sites). He called any suggestion of a witch hunt laughable.

Advocates point to a series of actions in the last year:

The inspector general already issued one report highly critical of Stop AIDS in San Francisco, saying their programs aimed at gay men were promoting sex and were possibly obscene. For instance, it pointed to program called "Great Sex Workshop," which examined ways of reducing the spread of HIV but also explored sex that was "safe, erotic, fun and satisfying."

A follow-up report on Stop AIDS is expected soon, and an administration official said it is expected it to find that the group made several positive changes to its programming.

Members of Congress also have twice asked HHS to further investigate AIDS groups.

In July, a group of Republicans asked HHS to examine whether the protesters at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona had used tax dollars to finance their trips. They also complained that the conference did not focus sufficiently on the role of religious groups in HIV prevention.

Thompson responded that his staff has brought concerns about religious groups to the conference organizers. But he said it would be too difficult to unravel the funding that various AIDS groups used absent a more specific complaint.

This month, a second group of House Republicans asked Thompson whether organizations lobbying against additional money for abstinence-only programs were using federal funds for such lobbying.

Thompson has yet to respond, but the groups say their lobbying activities are kept strictly separate from their federally funded work.

On Wednesday, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States plans to release a poll showing overwhelming support among parents for comprehensive sexuality education.

AIDS groups say the administration's focus on abstinence is having a chilling effect on other AIDS programming.

"There is a fear out in the community that if they produce something or say something inappropriate, or what is deemed as inappropriate, they will lose their funding," said Mary Ann Green of Florida AIDS Action.

 


Bush Policies Hurt AIDS Prevention, Groups Say
Administration Accused of Disinformation on Condom Use, Harassment Audits of Education Programs

By a Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 1, 2002; Page A06

Proponents of comprehensive sex education accused the Bush administration yesterday of waging a widespread campaign of disinformation and intimidation that is hampering AIDS prevention work across the country.

The activists said several government audits, aggressive promotion of abstinence-only programs and a retreat from earlier prevention efforts may put young people and minorities at increased risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Whenever AIDS educators are repressed and harassed and kept from doing their jobs, the epidemic is the big winner," said Joanne Csete, director of HIV/AIDS programs at Human Rights Watch. "Whenever moral judgmentalism and squeamishness are judged by politicians to be more important than preventing a life-threatening catastrophe, the epidemic is the winner."

The accusations are part of an intensifying debate that is occurring as Congress considers President Bush's request to increase abstinence-only funding to $135 million. Administration officials, while arguing that abstinence is the only guaranteed protection, denied there is any effort to single out liberal organizations that promote "safe sex" through contraceptive use.

"We believe young people across the board should abstain until marriage," said Claude Allen, deputy secretary of health and human services. If that fails, "fidelity is the next-safest protection against contraction of disease," followed by condom use.

In several instances, federal health officials said they are conducting investigations at the behest of lawmakers. The lawmakers have complained about federally funded groups that distribute explicit sexual materials, play down the importance of faith and heckled Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson at an international AIDS conference in Barcelona.

"We are obligated under law to follow through," Allen said.

Thompson has, however, expanded a review of the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project to "all department-funded HIV/AIDS activities." He also has authorized a new audit of HIV-related projects at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just months after a $1 million review was completed.

Allen said the review ordered by Thompson focuses more on management performance than any single group receiving federal money. The administration's primary goal, he said, is to find "the best science to resolve and address the issue of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases."

Critics disputed that, pointing to the lack of evidence in support of abstinence-until-marriage programs.

By teaching young people about abstinence and not condoms, federal health officials are "censoring and distorting potentially lifesaving information about how to prevent HIV/AIDS," said Rebecca Schiefler, an HIV/AIDS researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Schiefler recently issued a case study of Texas abstinence programs. She concluded that abstinence-only programs replace "complete, accurate and uncensored health information" with advice that "flies in the face of medical recommendations."

Gregg Consalves, a spokesman for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said investing heavily in abstinence-only while capping sex education programs runs counter to the expert advice of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine and the CDC. Both institutions have issued reports concluding that a "broad range of options" must be used when tackling teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, he said.

"We don't see how the CDC is going to meet its goal of reducing HIV infections by 50 percent by 2005," he said.

Others complain that HHS is driven more by conservative ideology than science. They noted that the CDC has removed condom information sheets and "Programs That Work" sex education summaries from its Web site.

"The research didn't become less valid; the data wasn't outdated," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, which offers AIDS services to young people in the U.S. and abroad. "What occurred was clearly a political move."

Most nettlesome, he said, is that HHS has refused to investigate abstinence-only programs despite a federal court ruling that found the state of Louisiana had illegally used its federal abstinence money to promote religion.

"In Louisiana, you have abstinence-only grantees violating federal law by crossing the line dividing church and state, and there are no follow-up audits," he said.

One federal auditor scrutinizing the books of a District AIDS group for gay men counseled an employee on the sin of homosexuality, writing relevant Bible passages on her business card, according to internal documents.

"This situation came to our attention and is being handled," said HHS spokesman William Pierce.

About a dozen Republican House members have asked Thompson to investigate Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood and Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States for possibly misusing federal money to lobby.

Telephone calls to the CDC and top AIDS advisers at the White House and HHS were not returned yesterday.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

 



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