Five conservative Republican lawmakers last week sent a letter to the International AIDS Society, one of the organizers of the upcoming international AIDS conference in Thailand, to express concern that religious groups weren't adequately represented on the conference agenda, USA Today reports. U.S. representatives Mark Souder (Ind.), Todd Akin (Mo.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Joseph Pitts (Pa.), and Ernest Istook (Okla.), wrote that they were shocked that no representatives from the Vatican were invited to speak at the conference despite the fact that Catholic charities provide about one-quarter of AIDS patient care worldwide. The letter also said the conference did not provide enough emphasis on stressing abstinence as the preferred method to prevent HIV infections worldwide. IAS president Joep Lange responded that the organization has confidence in the independent panels that review research to be presented at the conference and that the conference strives to present a fair balance of science and experience to attendees.
Eight Republicans law week also wrote to USAID administrator Andrew Natsios seeking information on the agency's funding of the international AIDS conference and other AIDS meetings, including data on the percentage of scientific abstracts focusing on abstinence, monogamy, and partner reduction presented at each conference that receives USAID funding. That letter was signed by Pitts, Akin and Souder, as well as representatives Dave Weldon (Fla.), Barbara Cubin (Wyo.), Steve King (Iowa), Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), and Virgil Goode (Va.).
HHS secretary Tommy Thompson has restricted travel funding for the international AIDS conference so that only 50 U.S. scientists can attend the event, down from more than 300 who attended the 2002 global meeting. Thompson says the cut to the travel budget is part of overall cost-saving measures at the department. But critics say Thompson reduced funding because he was heckled during a speech at the 2002 gathering. Because of the funding restriction, many U.S. scientists will be unable to present their research papers at the conference. Organizers of the upcoming Thailand conference have offered to pay for other U.S. scientists to attend the event, Science reports. "Let us know if there is anything we can do to help finance these researchers coming to the conference," event organizers wrote to Thompson. Thompson hasn't replied to the letter, Science reports.