ONAP Director Scott Evertz Speaks About Bush Administration’s Plans to Fight HIV/AIDSIN Step, a Wisconsin gay and lesbian newspaper, this week features an interview with Scott Evertz, the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, in advance of the Sept. 29 AIDS Walk Wisconsin (Fitzpatrick, IN Step, 9/20). Evertz, who previously served as the president of the Wisconsin chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, is the first gay ONAP director and the first openly gay member of the Bush administration (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/9). Although Evertz's nomination initially generated "a storm of protest" from conservative religious groups, the "dust [has] settled" and Evertz has become nearly "invisible," IN Step reports. A sampling of Evertz's comments on his first four months in office, needle-exchange programs and the Bush administration's plans to fight the epidemic appears below:
- Administration's commitment to AIDS epidemic: Evertz acknowledged that there was "a certain skepticism" among AIDS groups and others that the Bush administration would not push for greater efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and would not fight the epidemic as actively as President Clinton did during his two terms. However, Evertz said that "there is no difference in response between the previous administration and this one" and that the Bush administration is as "committed, if not more so, to the comprehensive approach to dealing with HIV and AIDS" (IN Step, 9/20). President Bush's FY 2002 budget proposal would increase HHS' expenditures on AIDS by $688 million, but would not increase funding for the Ryan White CARE Act, a move that some critics say would lead to cuts in services provided under the act (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/9). Evertz said that the Ryan White CARE program was "historically underfunded" in Clinton's budget and that "the Republican Congress ... came to the rescue" to boost funding for the program. Evertz admitted that the Bush administration needs "to do a better job in general" in securing media coverage for its anti-AIDS efforts.
- Evertz's absence from the media: IN Step noted that Bush administration officials have told members of the press that Evertz is unavailable for interviews "for at least a couple of months" and that some people believe Evertz is being "kept under wraps." Evertz said that although some people believe "that someone is telling [him] what to say," that "is simply not true." He added, "I'm not being kept under wraps. ... [N]o one is telling me what to say or where to go or what to do. ... Any conversations on [HIV/AIDS] are me embracing the officials in the White House and not the other way around."
- Abstinence-based HIV prevention programs: Evertz said that although Bush has proposed increased funding for "abstinence-only [HIV prevention] programs," government spending on abstinence programs "pales in comparison to the number of dollars committed to 'more traditional' HIV prevention programs." Evertz said that he sees abstinence-based prevention programs as "ideal" for "certain populations," such as teens, but added that the administration "will continue to listen" to groups arguing that abstinence-based projects "are not effective." Evertz said that abstinence programs receive far below the $700 million allocated annually to comprehensive HIV prevention programs and that increases in funding for abstinence-based prevention programs will not "have a detrimental effect" on funding for programs that promote safe sex.
- Faith-based efforts: Although Bush has said that he would like to allocate funding to faith-based agencies to provide some social services, Evertz said that the administration is not expected to "diver[t] funds" from AIDS groups to faith-based organizations.
- Needle-exchange programs: Evertz has traditionally supported needle-exchange programs as a method of preventing HIV transmission among intravenous drug users. He stated that as ONAP director, he will "present substantive and conclusive data ... on this issue to those who need to make a decision to eliminate" or retain the federal ban on funding for needle-exchange programs. However, Evertz added that needle-exchange programs are "saving lives and the evidence is conclusive. ... I'm in the process of gathering the information that I need to substantiate (my support) through clinical studies."
- Pharmaceutical patents: Evertz said that on the issue of pharmaceutical patents, the Bush administration is "looking for a compromise which would protect intellectual property and compensations while recognizing that we have a humanitarian responsibility to provide greater access to these drugs."
- Fraud at AIDS agencies: Recent media reports have documented various claims of fraud and funding abuse at AIDS organizations, and several government officials are calling for investigations into the financial operations of these groups. Evertz admitted that there is an "ethical" dilemma concerning the AIDS service industry because many of those who work in the industry, as well as those who produce AIDS drugs, "are earning good and very decent salaries that enable them to buy nice homes and to travel." He notes that some directors of state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) are earning "twice the per capita income" of others in their area. However, he noted that "abuses" of federal AIDS monies are "the exception to the rule" and individuals working in the AIDS industry should not be forced to earn "poverty wages." The topic of abuse "brings up a larger issue of anyone making money or living a comfortable lifestyle on the illness of others ... there are ethical issues surrounding profiting" on HIV/AIDS, he concluded.
- Global AIDS efforts: Evertz responded to criticism that the $200 million pledged by the Bush administration for the U.N. Global AIDS and Health Fund is not enough. "Number one, we're doing more than any other country on the face of the earth. Is it enough? Maybe not, but I do find it interesting that others are criticizing the world's largest donor to the global AIDS effort," Evertz said. He noted that the $200 million pledge is meant to be "a down payment of sorts" and that the United States will contribute more money once it "make[s] sure that these funds are actually getting to effective programs on the ground." He added that there is not "going to be some sort of fighting between our domestic and our international agendas" regarding HIV/AIDS funding.
- Vaccine research: Evertz stated that Bush plans to "continue to challenge those that are in the job of vaccine research to [develop an HIV vaccine] as quickly as possible" (IN Step, 9/20).