Three House Democrats Ask HHS Secretary Thompson To Reconsider Rules for AIDS Organizations’ Prevention Materials
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) yesterday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson asking him to reconsider new rules imposed on HIV/AIDS prevention programs that receive federal funding, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. HHS in July as part of the CDC's new HIV/AIDS prevention strategy announced that state or local health agencies must approve all HIV/AIDS prevention material distributed by groups that receive funding from the CDC. However, the three lawmakers said that the groups already use review panels to ensure that they distribute accurate and appropriate information. "This new requirement has yet to be justified by CDC, is not accompanied by new funding and has caused concerns among state HIV/AIDS directors," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. HHS spokesperson Tony Jewell said that the local approval requirement will provide groups an "extra safeguard" if members of Congress or others raise concerns about their materials, according to the AP/Sun. Some lawmakers raised questions in 2001 when an internal HHS audit found that some federally funded HIV/AIDS programs used educational materials that promoted sexual activity and met the legal standard for obscenity.
Rules Undermine Effectiveness?
The new rules also require prevention programs to expand the membership of their review panels to include a "reasonable cross-section of the general population," in addition to HIV/AIDS experts and community representatives already included in the panels. The three lawmakers said that this change could undermine the effectiveness of prevention campaigns since people outside at-risk populations may not discuss drug use and sexual behavior in "the most frank or culturally appropriate terms," according to the AP/Sun. The changes "could result in materials that are bland and ineffective," a shift that "would reduce the effectiveness of HIV prevention activities and cost lives," the letter said. However, Jewell said, "It's important to remember that when grantees and recipients of federal funding are getting looked at very closely right now, that is because members of Congress have asked HHS and CDC to look at these programs." He added, "By having those programs reviewed at the front end, that will hopefully put off federal scrutiny on the back end." Jewell also said that the department's "top priority" is to reduce the number of HIV infections, according to the AP/Sun. "The president and [HHS] secretary have dedicated unprecedented resources to fighting AIDS at home and abroad," he said (Dalrymple, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 9/11).