Thompson Defends AIDS Policies as PACHA Members Call Abstinence-Only Education, Flat Funding ‘Insufficient Weapons’
At their first meeting yesterday, members of the Bush administration's newly appointed Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS said they would "go beyond politics" in expanding efforts to prevent, treat and cure HIV/AIDS, the Washington Times reports. "This is not a partisan issue. This is a human issue," Co-Chair Louis Sullivan, a former HHS secretary, said (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 3/15). But several council members also criticized the Bush administration's AIDS policies as "insufficient weapons" against the epidemic, targeting its flat funding of AIDS prevention and treatment in the fiscal year 2003 budget proposal; its contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and its support of abstinence-only sex education, the Washington Post reports. "I am deeply concerned about the lack of emphasis on prevention in this administration," council member Caya Lewis, a manager at the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said. But HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told the council "he felt fortunate" to have at least secured extra money for HIV/AIDS research, adding, "You don't know how hard I had to fight to get flat funding" for prevention and treatment programs, given the administration's focus on fighting terrorism. Bush's budget dedicates $12.9 billion for HIV/AIDS, but most of the $900 million increase over last year is intended for NIH research programs, the Post reports.
Global Fund and Abstinence
Criticizing the U.S. contribution of $500 million to the global AIDS fund, council member Stuart Burden, a Levi Strauss & Co. executive, said, "There is a belief in the international community, given the size of our economy, that the United States has not done enough." He asked Thompson, "What more are you prepared to recommend?" But Thompson said the U.S. contribution represents 25% of the $2 billion in pledges to the fund so far, adding, "When the U.S. pays one-quarter of the amount, that's a tremendous and generous contribution" (Connolly, Washington Post, 3/15). Meanwhile, other council members -- many of them holdovers from the council appointed by former President Clinton -- took issue with the Bush administration's focus on abstinence-only education, saying condoms are "proven to prevent HIV/AIDS" and voicing support for a more comprehensive approach to sex education. The Washington Times reports, however, that "at least four" of Bush's 26 new appointees are "vocal proponents of abstinence education" who are likely to "challeng[e]" that criticism in future meetings (Washington Times, 3/15).
Review of Federally Funded Programs
Thompson also discussed with council members an HHS management review of federally funded HIV programs, which has "caused uneasiness among some advocacy groups that fear it will be the first step" toward cutting their funding (Washington Post, 3/15). A provision in the fiscal year 2002 Labor-HHS appropriations bill provides for an audit of all CDC-funded HIV prevention activities, requiring HHS to report to Congress any programs using the funds for "sexually explicit workshops." Federal law prohibits organizations that receive money from the CDC for HIV prevention efforts from promoting sexual activity or drug use, and prevention efforts must meet obscenity standards set forth in the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/20/01). Joe O'Neill, acting director of HHS' Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, told the council, "I know there's a lot of concern this review will be either a whitewash or a witch hunt. I want to put your minds at rest; the interest here is in doing a better job, not doing damage to the programs" (Washington Post, 3/15).