Sen. DeMint Made ‘Important Points,’ Confused ‘Key Concepts’ About HIV Prevention in Recent Opinion Piece, Letter to Editor Says
Although Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) made "some important points" regarding HIV prevention in a recent Washington Times opinion piece, he "also confuse[d] some key concepts," Daniel Halperin, senior researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, writes in a Times letter to the editor (Halperin, Washington Times, 6/10).
DeMint in the opinion piece said Congress "must think hard about our priorities" in considering bills to reauthorize the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. DeMint added that the reauthorization bills would allocate $50 billion for PEPFAR over the next five years -- "more than three times President Bush's original 2003 proposal." In addition, the legislation "also allows funding for programs" -- such as prevention initiatives aimed at injection drug users, commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men -- that are "morally objectionable" and "ineffective," DeMint wrote. He added that Bush should "call on Congress to trim back PEPFAR funding to his original request, and he should bring the plight of the African people before the country" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 5/27).
According to Halperin -- who recently published a study on HIV prevention in the journal Science -- scientific "findings do not support [DeMint's] notion" that programs teaching safer sex and safer injection drug use are ineffective in "curtailing the global [HIV] epidemic." In addition, DeMint was "incorrect to conclude" that a PEPFAR requirement that a portion of HIV prevention funding be spent on abstinence programs was "on the mark," Halperin writes. Halperin adds that "one might argue" that the requirement "wasted precious years focusing prevention efforts mainly on abstinence," while a "more effective approach" would have focused on behavior change, including partner reduction and fidelity, and male circumcision.
Halperin adds that although he "agree[s]" with DeMint on Congress' "'responsibility to ensure that aid to Africa is spent effectively,'" the "main question is not whether" the U.S. "can afford to help Africa" but "how best to spend" PEPFAR funding and "where." In addition to maintaining PEPFAR programs, a "very urgent priority" in Africa is to "prevent mass starvation and improve basic health services," Halperin writes, concluding that he "concur[s]" with DeMint's "plea" that the U.S. "can assist Africa" and can "do it responsibly" (Washington Times, 6/10).