Citing ‘Failed Efforts’ to Inform Public of Condom ‘Ineffectiveness,’ Physician Groups, Politicians Ask CDC Head to Resign
Saying that the "failure of public health efforts to prevent the STD epidemic in America is related to the CDC's 'safe-sex' promotion and its attempts to withhold from the American people the truth of condom ineffectiveness," numerous physician groups and members of Congress yesterday at a Washington, D.C., press conference called for the "immediate resignation" of CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan and urged the FDA to require condom labeling that "reflects the clinical science on condom effectiveness." The Physicians Consortium, a Harrisburg, Pa.-based group representing 2,000 doctors across the nation; the Catholic Medical Association; former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) called the conference in response to a NIH report released Friday that said that data does not sufficiently show that condoms are 100% effective in preventing the spread of various STDs, including chlamydia, syphilis and human papillomavirus. The groups said that the CDC "hid and misrepresented vital medical information" showing that condoms do not fully protect against STD transmission, adding, "Our greatest concern is for the millions of our patients and their families who have suffered from this policy of cover-up and deception." In addition, they called the CDC's actions "in direct and intentional violation of a federal law (P.L. 106-554)" passed last year that requires federal agencies to "communicate medically accurate information to the public and to enforce the use of medically accurate information." The groups also asked HHS to withdraw federal funding from all agencies whose educational and promotional materials do not comply with the required use of medically accurate information and called for a congressional hearing "on the scandal of the CDC's cover-up of information vital to women's health" (Physicians Consortium joint statement, 7/24).
HIV Risk Remains
Coburn, who led the conference, said that the issue is "not about lessening the effort to stop HIV," nor is it a debate between conservatives and liberals, but rather the issue is about the need for "accurate information" so that Americans may make informed decisions about their sexual behaviors. He added that while condom use may decrease the risk of HIV transmission, the method is only truly effective when used "perfectly" and "nobody uses condoms perfectly," he said. Although the report stated that data do show condoms are effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission, having protected sex with an HIV-positive partner still bears a one-in-six risk of viral transmission, Coburn stated. Dr. John Diggs, member of the Executive Committee of the Physicians Consortium, said that the report's results have "implications" for students who receive contraception and contraceptive information from school clinics and for Africans who battle an alarming rate of HIV on their continent (Laura Menge, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 7/25).
Abstinence-Only Programs Supported
A joint release from the groups stated, "There is a health model that completely protects against all STDs; it is abstinence until marriage with an uninfected partner and monogamy thereafter. If we, as a medical community, are really serious about the STD epidemic, this is the message we must begin sending to our young people" (Physicians Consortium joint statement, 7/24). When asked if abstinence-only programs were effective among students, Coburn responded that in every case he has examined, abstinence-only programs produced "marked improvements" in reducing the spread of disease (Menge, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 7/25).
In a statement, the CDC responded that the NIH report "doesn't say condoms are ineffective -- it says the evidence is fully sufficient only for HIV and gonorrhea, and for other STDs, more research is needed" (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 7/25). The agency "continues to advise that the surest protection from STDs is sexual abstinence and mutually monogamous relations with an uninfected partner." But "for other people who are sexually active, male latex condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are highly effective in protecting against HIV and can reduce the risk of other STDs," the agency added (Stein, Reuters, 7/24). Gay and Lesbian Medical Association President William Gilmer said in a statement issued at the conference, "To engage in the strategy of intentional misinformation is not only cynical and irresponsible, but dangerous. We must stop manipulating science to advance political goals" (GLMA release, 7/23). The Planned Parenthood Federation of America released a statement saying that "[w]hile abstinence from intercourse remains the most effective method" in reducing the risk of STDs, "condoms are still one of the best methods we have to prevent the spread" of disease. Medical and public health organizations have not "drawn the conclusion that people who are sexually active should be discouraged from using condoms to prevent disease transmission. Attempts to use the report to advance so-called abstinence-only education, which has not been shown to be effective, serves neither public health nor the public interest" (PPFA release, 7/23).