Saying that seeking and accepting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention HIV prevention funds would constitute an endorsement of policies it believes are counterproductive, the Vermont Committee for AIDS Resources, Education, and Services has decided not to apply for almost $100,000 in federal funds. The agency, the state's largest AIDS organization, was particularly concerned about new surveys that its leaders fear would make it easier to identify people seeking services. "In essence, a lot of the mandates revolved around what we perceived as a threat to anonymity for people receiving prevention services," says Peter Jacobsen, Vermont CARES prevention director. The survey policy requires clients to answer questions about sex- and drug-related behaviors before accessing services and to provide "unique identifiers" so they can be tracked through a federal database. Staffers worried this would further alienate people who are already reluctant, due to the fear of discrimination, to access services.
In addition, Vermont CARES staffers objected to being pressured to use HIV-prevention strategies that have been proven to work in urban areas instead of programs they know will work in rural settings. They also found fault with two new messages the government expects federally funded programs to deliver: Abstinence from sex is the best prevention, and condoms are not 100% effective. Jacobsen calls this "sort of a mixed message for the people we work with." Both Jacobsen and executive director Kendall Farrell are confident Vermont CARES can raise enough money to make up for the funds not requested from the CDC.
Vermont CARES provides HIV services in 10 of the state's 14 counties and targets all at-risk population groups. Other AIDS agencies in Vermont, including the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont, did apply for the CDC money. (AP)