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National News

San Francisco AIDS Program Cleared by CDC

February 14, 2003

Federal health reviewers have cleared controversial Stop AIDS Project workshops in San Francisco that had been criticized as potentially obscene and appearing to promote sexual activity, in violation of government guidelines.

Review teams from CDC have concluded that "the design and delivery of Stop AIDS prevention activities was based on current accepted behavioral science theories in the area of health promotion," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of CDC, wrote in a letter Thursday.

The controversy began in August 2001, when Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Ind.) complained about the workshops to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. Thompson ordered his inspector general to look at the Stop AIDS workshops, which are largely federally funded. The workshops included events such as "Intimacy and Mr. Right," which advised participants to "get ready for some fun, interactive intimacy games to help you keep sex safe and hot," and "Flirt, Date and Score," which urged those attending to "share pick-up strategies, negotiate safe sex and talk about what you are looking for in a date."

The inspector general, Janet Rehnquist, found that the workshops appeared to directly promote sexual activity. That, she said, would be inconsistent with guidelines adopted by CDC.

In November 2001, Thompson ordered his deputy secretary, Claude Allen, to set up a panel to look at Stop AIDS and all the other HIV/AIDS activities that receive CDC funding.

During this process, Rehnquist's office performed a follow-up inquiry and found that Stop AIDS programs had been adequately studied by a San Francisco Department of Public Health review panel, as required by federal law. "The potential for preventing HIV infection in San Francisco outweighed any possible obscenity," the review panel found, according to the report.

Advocates of the workshops said that, because advertising aimed at the gay community is often sexually provocative, reminders about safe sex must be explicit to get attention. Stop AIDS said successful promotion campaigns need to provide prevention messages with positive images of sex. Darlene Weide, Stop AIDS' executive director, hailed Gerberding's letter and the December HHS report as a vindication.

Back to other CDC news for February 14, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
02.14.03; Eric Malnic

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.