Some AIDS Activists, Lawmakers Angry That Federal Money Used to Fund ‘Sexually Provocative’ HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs
Lawmakers and some AIDS activists are "upset" that the CDC is funding some "sexually provocative" AIDS prevention programs, possibly in violation of federal guidelines, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. Some AIDS groups, such as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, have advertised AIDS prevention activities through ads that promote writing workshops on how to write "racy" stories and sessions aimed at teaching gay men how to choose "toys 'for solo and partner sex.'" Although these programs receive funding through the federal government's $387.7 million budget for AIDS prevention programs, CDC guidelines stipulate that programs receiving these funds "cannot promote or encourage sexual activity." Federal officials say that they "rely primarily on state and local governments" and citizen review boards to ensure that CDC funding for AIDS prevention programs is spent properly. Lisa Swenarski, a CDC spokesperson, said that the agency is "looking into" the ads, but added, "We defend the process of having the local review panels make those decisions" related to funding allocations.
Ads Spur Interest
Some local health officials and AIDS groups have defended the ads' content, stating that it helps spur interest in activities where people can learn about AIDS prevention. They say that prevention experts participate in activities with "sexually provocative themes" and that the ads are "the only way to draw gay men into discussions about AIDS prevention." Brian Byrnes, director of prevention services for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said, "Many who are at risk experience AIDS prevention burnout. Like the marketing of any product, you need to find language that will attract the target population: Men at high risk for HIV infection or transmission." Steven Tierney, director of HIV prevention for the city of San Francisco, added, "If you put out a flier saying, 'Please come learn how to prevent AIDS,' nobody shows up." However, the AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that advertisements for the events on groups' Internet sites "give no hint" that the activities aim to educate about HIV/AIDS.
The controversy surrounding the advertisements comes as federal, state and local officials are looking into the financial management of AIDS groups. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, recently "won a commitment" from the HHS Inspector General to step up audits of groups receiving federal funding to administer AIDS treatment programs. Grassley has not investigated the ads but criticized the "fraud and abuse" documented at some AIDS agencies, stating, "We don't have money to burn when people are suffering and dying." Officials in Dallas, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; California; Indiana and Washington, D.C., have all recently conducted investigations into the financial management of local AIDS groups (AP/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/10).