CDC Team Set to Investigate ‘Soundness’ of San Francisco’s Stop AIDS Project
A team of CDC representatives next week is expected to travel to San Francisco to investigate the Stop AIDS Project following allegations that the group is violating federal law by using agency funds to "promot[e] sexual activity," the Washington Times reports. The Stop AIDS Project program, which received $700,000 in federal funding in 2000, recently advertised one workshop on sex without condoms and another to "help homosexuals improve their 'cruising skills' and 'share pick-up strategies,'" according to the Times. Under guidelines revised in 1992, CDC funds are prohibited from supporting "education or information designed to promote or encourage, directly, homosexual or heterosexual sexual activity or intravenous substance abuse." CDC Director Julie Gerberding on Friday sent a letter to Darlene Weise, the program's executive director, stating that she would be sending a CDC team "to assess whether these programs are not only scientifically sound but also consistent with (federal program guidelines)," the Times reports (McCain, Washington Times, 8/7). Last November the group was cited in a report by HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist for misusing CDC funds to provide HIV prevention workshops that encouraged sexual activity and met the "legal definition of obscene material." After the report's release, Stop AIDS Project officials said they would "bring their programs into compliance" with CDC rules regarding sexually explicit material (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/19/01).
Critics of the project were "pleased" with the impending investigation, the Times reports. "This move is an excellent development," activist Michael Petrelis said, adding, "I'd like HIV money spent on effective prevention programs. I don't see any scientific proof that the (Stop AIDS Project) programs are reducing HIV infections." Gabe Neville, a spokesperson for Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), one of three U.S. representatives who asked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to investigate the group last year, said the investigation was a "welcome development," adding, "It appears that many of the initiatives in this program are outrageous and not something that the taxpayers should be funding." Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) called the CDC's efforts in San Francisco a "dismal failure," noting that although San Francisco receives "twice the amount of AIDS money as any other community," new infections have "doubl[ed]" over the last four years. Stop AIDS Project Communications Director Shana Krochmal said such statistics "prove" that programs like the Stop AIDS Project are "needed now more than ever," adding, "HIV prevention is not a battle that is won or lost with one report or set of new statistics." Krochmal said that the group is not worried by the CDC visit because such agency inquiries happen "all the time." She added, "Some of them are required by our contract. And some of them are because our programs have been held up by the CDC as a model of how to do prevention work. So we often get visitors from the CDC who are here to see how we do the work we do" (Washington Times, 8/7).