The Bush administration's second-ranking health official on Wednesday advocated making abstinence a key pillar of HIV prevention programs for young Americans, prompting sharp criticism from AIDS activists. "Encouraging young people and young adults to abstain is the only appropriate initial strategy," Claude Allen, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told delegates at the end of the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta. "Delaying sexual debut is the first message they should hear," continued Allen, a leading proponent of abstinence-only sex education and a former aide to conservative icon and former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms.
While acknowledging that condoms could sometimes stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, Allen said their use should not take priority over messages that stress abstinence and monogamy to young people.
Allen's comments prompted jeers from hundreds of activists at the conference in Atlanta and came just days after the federal government reported that the number of AIDS cases had risen in 2002 for the first time in nearly a decade. An estimated 850,000 to 950,000 Americans have the AIDS virus. AIDS killed 16,371 people across the nation last year.
"Allowing Claude Allen, a man with such hostile viewpoints on the basic tenets of HIV prevention, to close the conference speaks volumes about the Bush administration's true agenda on these issues," said Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People With AIDS. Shana Krochmal, communications director of the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project, said, "The depth of anger seen today makes it clear that people across the country are frustrated and also ready to further mobilize. Narrow political agendas are still being allowed to trump science by the best and the brightest in prevention."