NIH Director Zerhouni To Send Letter to Lawmakers Defending Agency’s Funding of AIDS, Sexual Health ResearchNIH Director Elias Zerhouni this week plans to send a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee "resolutely" defending the agency's funding for "dozens" of research studies on HIV/AIDS, sexual behavior and addiction, USA Today reports (Sternberg, USA Today, 1/13). Conservative House members have questioned at least 10 NIH research grants, including grants for studies on emergency contraception, Asian sex workers in San Francisco and women's response to pornography. At an Oct. 2, 2003, hearing on the grants, Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-N.J.) asked NIH for information about the public benefit of the 10 studies. Zerhouni's staff contacted the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which co-sponsored the hearing, to obtain the list of studies about which Ferguson wanted further information. Instead of sending the list of 10 studies, a committee staff member sent a different, longer list. That list, which includes more than 200 grants representing $100 million in funding, was prepared by the Traditional Values Coalition, which says it represents 43,000 churches nationwide (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/30/03).
'Major' Public Health Issues?
Zerhouni ordered his staff to review approximately 190 studies, including research on the sexual habits of older men, drug use among California sex workers, sexual identity among Native Americans and sexual arousal in women, and determined that the research represented "major" public health issues that should receive scientific attention, according to USA Today. TVC Director Andrea Lafferty said, "We're not opposed to research. But research dollars are scarce. Choices have to be made. Are we going to research finding a cure for juvenile diabetes or the sex lives of Mexican workers before and after they come over the border?" Zerhouni responded in an interview with USA Today, "There is no American that doesn't deserve research to alleviate their suffering, no matter where they are or whatever ethnic group they come from." He added, "When you look at the impact of sexually transmitted diseases, you're talking about HIV/AIDS and many others that affect millions of people and their reproductive lives." Zerhouni also voiced his support for the method by which the NIH determines funding levels, saying, "Independent peer review is the cornerstone of science in America" (USA Today, 1/13).