Newsweek Web Exclusive Features Interview With Expected PACHA Co-Chair Tom Coburn
Former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who is slated to be appointed as the co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, this week discussed condoms, HIV prevention strategies and needle exchange in a Newsweek Web exclusive interview. Coburn said that as co-chair he will try to "build a consensus" among the 35 committee members, nine of whom will be returning to the posts they held during the Clinton administration. "I'd like to see us come out with unanimous consensus on everything we recommend," Coburn said. On the subject of HIV prevention, Coburn said that health officials "have not told the whole truth" about condoms by not fully disclosing their risks. "My position is, if you can get people to use condoms perfectly, and you can make sure they use them, and tell them what the risks are, and tell them the breakage rates and slippage rates are, it's a good strategy," Coburn said. He added that "monogamy is the answer to HIV infection" and that although some people might not believe he is "a realist in this area," there are "hundreds and hundreds of millions of people out there that are monogamous." Coburn also expressed his opposition to needle-exchange programs, calling them "failed compassion" and noting that intravenous drug use is illegal. "If you want to help somebody, help them get off drugs. Don't give them clean needles. That is a poor substitute for eliminating HIV," Coburn said. He noted that this is his "personal opinion," and the committee may not adopt this position.
AIDS Groups Oppose Other PACHA Nominees
Newsweek also reports on the opposition among AIDS and gay organizations to the expected PACHA nominees, many of whom are "social conservatives and Christian activists" who hold "contrary" views on HIV prevention. Several nominees "flatly oppose" advocating safe sex and instead prefer promoting abstinence. Others approve of strategies such as mandatory HIV testing for infants and creating a national databank containing the names of HIV-positive Americans. Coburn and Dr. Louis Sullivan, a former surgeon general who is expected to serve as PACHA co-chair, are backed by the conservative group Focus on the Family. "The administration is giving these posts to Christian fundamentalists to appease them ... rather than trying to take the epidemic seriously," Ronald Johnson, an officer for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, said (France, Newsweek, 2/5).