Scientists studying AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases report that their research grants face political scrutiny by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or by members of Congress. The New York Times reports that scientists were advised to avoid certain phrases in their grant applications, such as “sex workers,” “men who sleep with men,” “anal sex,” and “needle exchange.”
Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, told the Times that the fear of political scrutiny was creating a “pernicious sense of insecurity” among researchers. “If people feel intimidated and start clouding the language they use, then your mind starts to get cloudy and the science gets cloudy,” Dr. Sommer explained to the Times. One anonymous official called the level of scrutiny under the Bush administration “much worse and more intense” than under any other president, the Times reports.
“The actions of the Bush administration are causing unnecessary fear, disease, and death globally. From pressuring US scientists to ‘sanitize’ their language to pressuring the CDC to weaken their fact sheet on the effectiveness of condoms to pressuring the National Cancer Institute to deny science and falsely imply that abortion is linked to breast cancer, their theocratic impetus denies and obscures the deadly reality of their actions,” said Beth Jordan, MD, medical director of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Next year, federal spending on safe-sex programs to prevent the spread of HIV will take a back seat to programs focusing on the infected population, according to the Los Angeles Times. This new shift will place a greater emphasis on HIV testing and individualized counseling for HIV-positive people and their partners. The shift in policy has drawn criticism from AIDS advocacy groups. “I think it is shortsighted in some ways,” said Daniel Montoya, director of government affairs for AIDS project Los Angeles, according to the LA Times. “Unless you are doing comprehensive prevention, in terms of looking at people who are at risk and not just look at those who are already infected, we may have another epidemic on our hands 10 years down the road.”
Media Resources: New York Times 4/18/03; LA Times 4/18/03; Feminist Majority Foundation