U.S. Representatives Request Account of U.S. Funds That Went Toward XIV International AIDS Conference
Twelve Republican members of the House of Representatives, upset by the treatment of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and the exclusion of some religious groups at the XIV International AIDS Conference earlier this month in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday sent a letter to Thompson requesting that his agency account for all U.S. funding that went to support the conference and provide a list of individuals who received grants from the government to attend the conference (Aderholt et al. letter text, 7/17). On July 9, Thompson, who headed the U.S. delegation to the conference, had his speech "drowned out" by protestors who were angry with the Bush administration for not pledging more money for international HIV/AIDS efforts (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/10). In the letter, the representatives note that the United States is spending $1 billion on international HIV/AIDS efforts this year in addition to spending on AIDS-related research and development. They also state that the United States has spent more on global HIV/AIDS than any other nation, having provided more than $100 billion so far. In light of these figures, the representatives say they were "very disappointed by the rude reception" Thompson received.
Religious Role Overlooked?
In addition, the representatives write that they were "shocked" to learn that the Vatican was "uninvited" to the conference and that "[n]one of the major speeches or lectures dealt with faith's role" in combating HIV/AIDS. They state that religious groups often provide care for people with HIV/AIDS and that faith institutions have "played a significant part" in reducing HIV infection rates in many nations by stressing "sexual restraint" to youth. "The religious intolerance and outright disdain expressed by the conference organizers and many of the activists who attended should not be subsidized with U.S. taxpayer dollars," the representatives write, adding that it is "beyond disgraceful that those calling for tolerance and understanding of people living with HIV/AIDS would themselves act with such intolerance and discrimination toward [Thompson], the American taxpayers and the religious institutions that are providing so much care for those suffering from AIDS." The representatives ask Thompson for the total amount of assistance that went toward the conference and for a list of individuals, and their affiliated organizations, who attended the conference with federal assistance. They conclude that if the conference organizing committee cannot "guarantee the freedom of speech to U.S. representatives and discontinu[e] its discrimination against those of religious faith," financial assistance to future conferences should be withheld and "redirect[ed]" to help people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States or abroad. The letter was signed by Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), John Sullivan (R-Okla.), Mark Souder (R-Ind.), John Doolittle (R-Calif.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Sam Johnson (R-Texas) and Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) (Aderholt et al. letter text, 7/17).