CDC Asks Stop AIDS Project To Discontinue ‘Controversial’ HIV Prevention Programs
The CDC in a letter on Friday to the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project said that some of the group's HIV prevention workshops violate a Public Health Service Act ban on encouraging sexual activity and asked the group to discontinue the workshops, four months after an agency review found that the workshops were acceptable, USA Today reports (Sternberg, USA Today, 6/16). CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding wrote in a letter in February that CDC review teams found that "the design and delivery of Stop AIDS prevention activities were based on current accepted behavioral science theories in the area of health promotion." The investigation into the workshops began in August 2001, when Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) asked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to examine the group's use of federal funds. The request prompted a November 2001 report by HHS Inspector General Janet Rehnquist that found that the Stop AIDS Project had used about $700,000 in federal funds in 2000 for workshops that were "too sexy" and had provided HIV prevention workshops that encouraged sexual activity and met the "legal definition of obscene material." CDC guidelines for HIV prevention programs state that the programs cannot promote sexual activity or injection drug use and must meet the obscenity standards established in the 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/14).
The CDC conducted the latest review as a result of a request made by a legislative committee led by Souder (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 6/14). The letter sent on Friday said that the Stop AIDS Project must discontinue many of its workshops and threatened to revoke as much as $500,000 in federal grants if the group fails to comply, according to the Washington Post (Connolly, Washington Post, 6/14). In a separate letter to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Gerberding asked the department to improve its monitoring of HIV prevention programs and reject projects with titles or descriptions that "directly promote or encourage sexual activity" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/16). In another letter sent to Souder on Friday, Gerberding said that the CDC plans to increase its oversight of HIV prevention programs and inform such programs of their responsibility to not promote sexual activity (Los Angeles Times, 6/14).
Stop AIDS Project spokesperson Shana Krochmal said that she was "shocked" by the CDC letter and added that the workshops sponsored by the group "are based on the CDC's own model for doing community-level HIV interventions," the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/14). Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco health department, said that he supports the workshops and would use city funds to supplement the Stop AIDS Project budget if the group loses federal funds. "We in San Francisco believe that to reach the men who have sex with men who are at highest risk of HIV transmission, we need to speak the same language they do, and we need to have workshops that draw them in," Katz said (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/16). Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, in a letter to Gerberding on Friday criticized the CDC decision. Anderson wrote in the letter, "While the obsession with Stop AIDS programs that some have can probably best be characterized as prurient, the chilling impact it has on community-based prevention efforts across the country is frightening and unacceptable." Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesperson, did not address whether Gerberding "faced political pressure to take a tough stance" against the Stop AIDS Project and said that the letters sent Friday "are pretty clear and speak for themselves" (Los Angeles Times, 6/14).