U.S. representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) on Thursday sent a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson claiming that the Bush administration forced 28 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers off a list of agency employees scheduled to attend the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, next month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The scientists were cut from the travel list to keep the number of CDC researchers attending the event to just 20, in order to adhere to a mandate by Thompson that only 50 U.S. government officials and researchers attend the international conference. "By grounding these experts, you are keeping them from learning from their peers across the world, and you are depriving the world of the scientific leadership of the United States," Waxman and Slaughter wrote. They also say that keeping the scientists from the conference will deprive the other thousands of attendees of key information from the researchers' studies on HIV prevention, drug-resistance monitoring, and fighting bacterial infections in AIDS patients.
Thompson earlier this year decided to limit the number of U.S. scientists and policy makers attending the conference to just 50, down from 236 sent to the 2002 International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Thompson claims the reduced number is part of cost-cutting moves at the department, but AIDS activists say the limited number was due to criticism of Bush administration proposals at the conference and the fact that Thompson was heckled while giving a speech at the 2002 event. By limiting the number of U.S. researchers attending the conference, Waxman says, more than 40 papers by U.S. scientists expected to be presented at the Bangkok conference have been withdrawn, 37 of them by CDC researchers. HHS spokesman Bill Pierce says the United States will be "well-represented" at the conference, adding that telephone conference calls, e-mails, and media reports will help distribute important information presented at the conference to researchers and AIDS advocates around the world.