Congressional Democrats Call on Bush Administration Officials To Endorse Lancet Commentary on HIV Prevention
A group of congressional Democrats has sent a letter to several Bush administration officials to ask for their endorsement of a recent commentary on HIV prevention that was published in the journal Lancet and signed by health, political and religious leaders worldwide, CQ HealthBeat News reports (CQ HealthBeat News, 1/7). Almost 150 HIV/AIDS experts from 36 nations endorsed the Nov. 27, 2004, commentary, which called for consensus on a "sound public health approach" to the prevention of sexual HIV transmission. Although sexual behavior is influenced by many factors, the public health community "has an obligation to offer people the most accurate information on how to avoid HIV and to encourage changes in societal norms to reduce the spread of the virus," according to the commentary. The commentary called for an end to the "polarizing debate" over HIV prevention and asked health experts to reach a consensus on an "inclusive evidence-based approach" to preventing the spread of the disease.
The commentary also recommended some "key principles" for HIV prevention programs. First, programs need to be "locally endorsed" and epidemiologically grounded. Second, programs should employ the "ABC" approach -- abstinence, be faithful and use condoms -- with emphasis on each of the elements depending on the target population. Third, community-based prevention programs should involve religious groups, women's and men's organizations, youth organizations, care groups, health care workers, local media, and traditional and governmental leadership to "foster new norms of sexual behavior" and reduce stigma, gender inequality, sexual coercion, cross-generational sex and transactional sex, the commentary said. The piece concluded that it is "time to leave behind divisive polarization and to move forward together in designing and implementing evidence-based prevention programs to help reduce the millions of new infections occurring each year" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/29/04).
The lawmakers -- who included Sen. Richard Durban (D-Ill.) and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) -- sent the letter to CDC Director Julie Gerberding and Randall Tobias, head of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator in the State Department, and several Bush administration health officials. "Given the broad international and domestic support for the Lancet statement and the importance of collaboration in AIDS prevention efforts worldwide, we would like to know whether you, as a key leader in this administration in combating HIV/AIDS, support this statement," the letter said, noting that the commentary was endorsed by "several of the world's leading HIV experts," CQ HealthBeat News reports. The lawmakers asked for a response by Jan. 24. According to Elissa Pruett, OGAC director of public affairs, Tobias has not reviewed the letter but has said that the Lancet commentary is a "tremendous effort to end some of the divisiveness that imperils the effectiveness of our common fight." Gerberding also has not reviewed the letter, CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said. He added that, similar to the Lancet commentary, the Bush administration endorses the ABC model of HIV prevention and that "when it comes to fighting AIDS, no one is more committed or spends more money than the United States" (CQ HealthBeat News, 1/7).