Former Rep. Tom Coburn Slated to be Co-Chair of Presidential AIDS Council, Says U.S. AIDS Prevention Strategy Has ‘Failed’
The Bush administration is expected to soon tap former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to serve as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the Washington Times reports. The council was created in 1995 by the Clinton administration to offer guidance on HIV/AIDS issues to the White House and federal agencies. The panel addresses a range of issues, including HIV/AIDS programs, policies, research, prevention and treatment (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 1/23). Coburn, who stated yesterday in an interview confirming his pending appointment that the national HIV/AIDS prevention strategy has "failed," said he would like to see more AIDS funding devoted to prevention efforts among minorities and other communities where the virus is spreading rapidly (Meckler, AP/Washington Post, 1/23). Dr. Louis Sullivan, who served as HHS secretary during the administration of former President Bush, is expected to serve as the other council co-chair. The Bush administration is expected to formally announce the 35 members of the panel in the near future. Patricia Funderburk Ware was named executive director of PACHA in November, and others scheduled to serve as council members include Dr. Joe McIlhaney, director of the Medical Institute in Austin, Texas; Joel Hastings of the Lifelong AIDS Alliance in Seattle, Wash.; and Mary Fisher, a Florida AIDS activist (Washington Times, 1/23). Former Rep. Ronald Dellums and several others who served on the council during the Clinton administration are slated to return to serve on the new council (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/22).
Several members of Congress recommended Coburn for the position of PACHA co-chair (Washington Times, 1/23). Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) on Dec. 20 wrote a letter to President Bush stating that Coburn, who is a practicing OB/GYN, is "uniquely qualified" for the position and "is personally committed to ending HIV/AIDS." Weldon noted Coburn's key role in reauthorizing the Ryan White CARE Act as proof of his commitment to fighting AIDS (Weldon letter, 1/20). Several AIDS groups applauded Coburn's nomination. Wayne Turner of ACT UP/Washington said that "Coburn has maintained a productive working relationship with many HIV/AIDS activists," adding that the former lawmaker has made sure that HIV-positive people are included on AIDS planning councils (Washington Times, 1/23). Beyond AIDS called Coburn a "compassionate advocate of public health who is committed to ending" HIV/AIDS (Beyond AIDS release, 1/22). Darin Johnson of AIDS Action also expressed support for Coburn, but added that he is skeptical over whether PACHA will "be a true honest voice or ... a council ... that can basically give a public green light for moving a lot of conservative HIV policies?" (AP/Washington Post, 1/23).
During his tenure in Congress, Coburn was often at the center of controversy for questioning the effectiveness of condoms. In 1999 he proposed that the government post warning labels on condom packages stating that condoms do not prevent the spread of human papillomavirus (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 1/22). In July Coburn and several other lawmakers and doctors' groups called for the "immediate resignation" of CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan because rising STD rates are "related to the CDC's 'safe-sex' promotion and its attempts to withhold from the American people the truth of condom ineffectiveness" and urged the FDA to require condom labeling that "reflects the clinical science on condom effectiveness," stating that data does not sufficiently show that condoms are 100% effective in preventing the spread of various STDs, including chlamydia, syphilis and HPV. The group was unsuccessful in both attempts (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/25/01). "Condoms are fairly effective against HIV if people will use them. We have to ask a question: Are people going to use them? ... We have had a strategy that says that's the answer ... and HIV infection is going up," Coburn said. Coburn added that his personal views will not "dictate the work of the panel" but said he would "challenge the national focus on condom use for preventing the spread of [HIV]." Coburn has also been a vocal supporter of abstinence-only sex education (AP/Washington Post, 1/23).