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Bush
administration warned to keep condom info factual

Bush
administration warned to keep condom info factual

Condom

Government auditors reminded the Bush administration Thursday that literature distributed by federally funded abstinence programs must contain medically accurate information about condoms' effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Government auditors reminded the Bush administration Thursday that literature distributed by federally funded abstinence programs must contain medically accurate information about condoms' effectiveness in preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

The Government Accountability Office did not make any judgment about the accuracy of the literature. But the government watchdog did say the Department of Health and Human Services is required by law to ensure that materials addressing sexually transmitted diseases ''shall contain medically accurate information on condom effectiveness.''

The Bush administration has contended that materials prepared by the programs, which received about $170 million in 2006, did not fall within the scope of the statute.

''We have no disagreement that abstinence education curricula should be medically accurate,'' said Wade Horn, a top HHS official. ''In fact, we insist on it.'' Horn, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said the Administration didn't need a law to tell it that the information had to be correct. The GAO's opinion will have no effect on the literature, he said.

The GAO opinion was hailed by groups that allege abstinence education programs routinely exaggerate condom failure rates.

''For the better part of 25 years, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been permitted to use taxpayer dollars to lie about the effectiveness of condoms, and the current administration has, time and again, failed to hold these programs accountable for much of anything except cashing their grant checks,'' said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The council distributes sexual health literature to educators, parents, and others. It also conducts workshops and provides technical assistance.

The requirement about providing medically accurate information on condom effectiveness was part of an appropriations bill approved in 2000.

Horn said his agency's reading of the statute was that it applied to other activities, such as training material provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC fact sheet for public health personnel states: ''For persons whose sexual behaviors place them at risk for STDs, correct and consistent use of the male latex condom can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100% effective.''

The CDC manual said condoms used correctly are ''highly effective'' in preventing the virus that causes AIDS and ''can reduce the risk'' of transmission of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.

LeAnna Benn, national director of Teen-Aid Inc. of Spokane, Wash., said she does not believe the GAO's recommendation would change what's taught by abstinence programs. ''I think there would be very little change in what had to be said based on medical referencing,'' Benn said.

At the same time, she questions whether the government has the resources to go through all the materials that grantees use to teach about the effectiveness of condoms. ''My program is 400 pages long with 1,000 medical foot notes. Would the government want to go through all my footnotes?'' she said. (AP)

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