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AIDS groups demand Frist retract HIV and condom statements

AIDS groups demand Frist retract HIV and condom statements

Several AIDS groups are demanding that Senate majority leader Bill Frist retract and apologize for inaccurate comments he recently made about HIV transmission risks and condom effectiveness. The Philadelphia chapter of ACT UP, the New York City AIDS Housing Network, the Center for Health and Gender Equity, and the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project are protesting comments made by Frist, a Tennessee Republican, on the December 5 broadcast of ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos in which the Senate leader responded to a congressional study of federal abstinence-only programs that claimed the programs made several false statements about HIV. These included claims that half of all gay teenagers are HIV-positive, that touching a woman's genitals could result in pregnancy, that condoms failed to prevent HIV infections more than 30% of the time, and that HIV can be transmitted through sweat or tears. The National Association of People with AIDS also separately wrote to Frist last week to urge him to clarify his statements on the ABC program. Frist, a medical doctor, told Stephanopoulos on that show that he "didn't know" if HIV could be transmitted through sweat or tears, saying, "You can get virus in tears and sweat, but in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard." According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV." Frist also claimed in the interview that condoms have a 15% failure rate. But the AIDS activists say that according to peer-reviewed studies, consistent and correct condom use is associated with only a 2% failure rate. For those who use condoms inconsistently or incorrectly, the failure rate can reach 13%. "A doctor takes an oath to do no harm," said Waheedah Shabazz-El, a person living with HIV from ACT UP Philadelphia. "A simple 'no' was the responsible answer. We are working on the front lines, trying to correct dangerous myths about HIV transmission. But Dr. Frist's comments endorse these myths and undermine our efforts to protect people from HIV infection. He should be sent back to medical school if he can't get his facts straight about HIV transmission." AIDS activists also say that Frist was so unwilling to be seen calling into question the veracity of the abstinence programs endorsed by President Bush that he refused to provide a clear answer. "Unfortunately, the Bush administration is not only using public money to spread inaccurate HIV prevention information at home and abroad--politicians like Dr. Frist are also bending over backwards to reinforce these dangerous myths," said Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. NAPWA executive director Terje Anderson wrote to Frist, "We hope that you will, at the first available opportunity, speak out to emphasize that proper and consistent use of condoms is an effective way for sexually active people to protect against HIV transmission and that condoms represent an integral part of any comprehensive prevention strategy."

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