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Senator Sessions to See If Sex or Needles Prime Cause of African AIDS

March 25, 2003

A debate on whether a $15 billion humanitarian effort should be redirected has begun in Congress based on a study's conclusion that dirty needles might be responsible for as many African AIDS cases as unprotected sex.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.), has called a Thursday hearing of the Senate's health committee that could have major implications for the focus of President Bush's five-year proposal to fight the disease in 14 African and Caribbean countries.

The study, published in the British Royal Society of Medicine's International Journal of STD & AIDS (2003; Vol. 14; No. 3), concludes that almost a third of AIDS exposures in Africa are due to contaminated needles in medical treatment, about the same blamed on sex, says study author David Gisselquist.

The long-held belief that heterosexual contact is to blame for as much as 90 percent of the AIDS cases in Africa has driven Bush's health advisers to emphasize abstinence and safe sex education in assembling the $15 billion plan. "The best evidence that was available just simply didn't support that," Gisselquist said. "The AIDS industry to date is giving the signals they want the whole thing focused on sex and treatment."

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS disputed Gisselquist's findings, recently concluding, "such suggestions are not supported by the vast majority of evidence and unsafe sexual practices continue to be responsible for the overwhelming majority of HIV [infections]."

Sessions is not taking any sides now, but wants to hear the debate hashed out in a public forum before Congress decides how to allocate the $15 billion project. "We want to see if these findings hold up in the face of critical analysis," said Sessions, who will preside at Thursday's hearing. "If it is true, we need to start this very day because this very day, adults are being infected with AIDS without their knowledge in a way that could be easily prevented."

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
03.24.03; Jeffrey McMurray

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