AIDS Advocates Protest HHS Deputy Secretary’s Remarks on Abstinence During Speech at Conference Closing
HIV/AIDS advocates yesterday protested HHS Deputy Secretary Claude Allen's speech at the closing of the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Reuters reports. Allen called for abstinence to be a "key pillar" of HIV prevention programs aimed at young people in the United States, which drew criticism from HIV advocates attending the closing. Allen said, "Encouraging young people and young adults to abstain is the only appropriate initial strategy," adding, "Delaying sexual debut is the first message they should hear." In addition to criticizing Allen's comments on abstinence, some advocates also protested the CDC's new HIV prevention strategy, Reuters reports (Simao, Reuters, 7/30). Dr. Robert Janssen, director of the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, in April said that the government will invest most heavily in initiatives that focus on identifying people who are already HIV-positive, which could jeopardize approximately $90 million in annual federal funding for community groups. The CDC has said that the current emphasis on community outreach prevention programs has proven ineffective, citing an increase in the number of new HIV cases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/30). During Allen's speech, demonstrators remained silent, holding signs that read "Stop the War on AIDS Prevention," according to a release from several community-based AIDS organizations. Following Allen's speech, some AIDS advocates booed and hissed (Joint release, 7/30).
Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, said, "Allowing Claude Allen, a man with such hostile viewpoints on the basic tenets of HIV prevention, to close the conference speaks volumes about the Bush administration's true agenda on these issues" (Reuters, 7/30). Allen spoke in place of CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding, who was scheduled to deliver the closing address (Joint release, 7/30). Shana Krochmal, communications director of the San Francisco-based Stop AIDS Project, said, "The depth of anger seen today makes it clear that people across the country are frustrated and also ready to further mobilize. Narrow political agendas are still being allowed to trump science by the best and the brightest in prevention" (Washington Times, 7/31).
A webcast of Allen's speech, as well as other select sessions of the conference, is available online through kaisernetwork.org's HealthCast.