AIDS activists say proposed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations that force AIDS educators to stress abstinence, to present information about condom failure rates, and to give local health officials veto power over specific prevention programs would hamper efforts to fight the disease, the Boston Globe reports. The agency proposed the guidelines in June to increase accountability for the more than $227 million spent annually on HIV prevention efforts and to ensure that "appropriate prevention messages" reach their target audiences; a public comment period on the proposed rules ends this month. A final decision by the CDC is expected before the end of the year.
Critics say the proposed CDC regulations are merely an attempt by conservatives in the Bush administration to inject their political ideology into the public health arena. They also say the CDC proposal is the legacy of legislation championed by Republican former congressman Tom Coburn, currently running for a U.S. Senate seat from Oklahoma, who is antigay and advocates abstinence until marriage for all Americans. Coburn, who chairs the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, also believes that all HIV-positive people should abstain from all sexual activity. He has accused some HIV prevention programs, particularly those aimed at sexually active gay and bisexual men, of violating federal funding rules by encouraging sexual activity.
Activists are particularly alarmed at two key provisions in the new regulations--the de-emphasis of condoms and the allowance for oversight of local HIV prevention programs by health or government panels that may have political agendas. "In the absence of an HIV vaccine, really the most effective method we have for preventing HIV is the condom," Elizabeth Miller, who works at a clinic run by Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Globe. "To obfuscate that and to make the issue cloudy really is of no benefit for prevention efforts."
Rebecca Haag, executive director of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, says that the new oversight rules could weaken HIV prevention messages for specific audiences, like gay men and injection drugs users. "When you're talking about a disease transmitted through sexual activity and the use of drugs, some of the materials used to reach folks will be a little bit edgy [and] will need to be very direct," she told the Globe. "The proposed regulations as currently written could have a chilling effect on our ability to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS."