Two House committees to probe abstinence-based AIDS prevention program
Michael Roston
Published: Tuesday July 17, 2007
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The Chairmen of two Committees in the House of Representatives have opened a probe into the effectiveness of President George W. Bush's 'abstinence-only' policies for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS globally.

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Tom Lantos (D-CA, chairs of the Committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Foreign Affairs, respectively, wrote with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to Mark Dybul, the US Global AIDS Coordinator, in a Monday letter. It warned that the administration's current approach to HIV/AIDS prevention was coming up short.

"[A] recently completed impact evaluation that the Administration commissioned suggests that U.S.-funded 'abstinence and be faithful' programs are failing to meet the needs of sexually active youth," the three Congressmembers wrote. "According to the study, many of the evaluated programs lack age-appropriate, skill-based lessons on partner reduction, mutual fidelity, and cross-generational and transactional sex....most of the programs do not seem to have procedures in place to refer sexually active or 'at-risk' youth to more comprehensive programs, despite your office's direction that they do so."

The House Democrats' letter notes that significant amounts of federal funds are spent globally on the 'abstinence and be faithful' programs. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief spent approximately $1 billion, or 7% of total funds, on prevention programs that concentrate on abstinence.

The lengthy letter detailed some reasons to doubt the effectiveness of the programs, based on a 'targeted evaluation' that the program itself commissioned.

The program, they noted "would seem by definition to include 'be faithful' messages. However, the evaluators found that many programs did not have adequate components dealing with partner reduction and fidelity."

Instead, the letter warned, "few programs had specific activities and strategies for sexually-active youth, beyond recommending a return to abstinence."

Additionally, Waxman, Lantos, and Lee noted, the program was coming up short in spreading messages about effective condom use.

"[F]ew of the programs trained leaders for youth ages 10-19 or school-based programs on how to respond to questions about sexuality, including condoms," they wrote.

By July 30, the House members sought an update on "how you plan to respond to the findings and recommendations of this report as they relate to the needs of sexually active youth."

The full letter can be downloaded from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform website.