|By shouting down a speech by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, the demonstrators were protesting insufficient U.S. funding for AIDS domestically and globally.|
AIDS activists are concerned about the government's handling of a recent request for a general audit of 16 prominent AIDS organizations in the U.S.
The July 17 request from a dozen Republican legislators in the House of Representatives, came just five days after demonstrators shouted down a speech by U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain.
The request, initiated by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), calls on HHS to provide "the total amount of U.S. federal assistance" that went to the Conference. The request also asks "How many individuals -- from both the government and non-government organizations -- attended the conference with some form of federal assistance? Please provide a complete list of these individuals and their affiliations."
The demonstrators were protesting insufficient U.S. funding for AIDS domestically and globally. Many demonstrators had signed a flier announcing the demonstration, and some later met with Secretary Thompson to discuss their differences. Some also signed a letter to Thompson after the Conference outlining their differences and thanking him for their discussions in Barcelona.
Among the groups who signed on to the flier were the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, Project Inform, Treatment Action Group and AIDS Project Los Angeles.
"Groups that do advocacy and get public money are always concerned that there's an awkwardness in that situation," said Terje Anderson, Executive Director of the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). "But I can't think of another time there's been talk of retaliation."
"The question we have to ask is what is the intent of this?" asked Robert Dabney, communications director for the National Minority AIDS Council, which the Health Resources and Services Administration of HHS has asked to document spending at the Barcelona Conference. "Our fear is that audits will have a chilling effect on these organizations."
Mark Harrington of Treatment Action Group said "all organizations are threatened" by the gathering of names and numbers, regardless of what is done with the information. "Anybody who hears what happened is going to think twice about signing another flier or planning another demonstration," he added.
HHS officials described the request for information as routine and said they are obliged to respond. HHS Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen said the department is working overtime to produce the information.
"It doesn't behoove us to want to engage in a witch hunt," Allen said. "This is not Secretary Thompson's style. We work with both our supporters and our detractors. We know that when you're engaged in highly significant issues that affect life and death, you're going to have differences of opinion."
Rep. Souder also initiated another recent congressional request for an audit of Stop AIDS Project in San Francisco. Souder and other legislators alleged that HIV/AIDS prevention education at Stop AIDS violated federal funding rules by promoting sex in some of their workshops. The audit is currently under way.
Souder's letter regarding the Barcelona demonstrations stated that the U.S. is spending $1 billion on international HIV/AIDS and that in light of these figures the legislators were "very disappointed by the rude reception Thompson received."
The legislators also objected to what they said was a lack of religious groups at the conference -- they claimed the Vatican had been "uninvited," which a Spanish co-chair of the conference vigorously denied -- and said taxpayers dollars should not be used to support such "religious intolerance."
The HHS letter was signed by Reps. John T. Doolittle of California, Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, Jim DeMint and Sue Wilkins Myrick of South Carolina, Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania, John B. Shadegg of Arizona, Jim Ryun of Kansas, Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, John Sullivan of Oklahoma, Sam Johnson of Texas and Jo Ann Davis of Virginia. All of the legislators are Republicans.
As of publication, none of the organizations mentioned above had been audited or contacted about a potential audit. APLA will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.
|Phil Curtis is the manager of Public Policy in AIDS Project Los Angeles' Government Affairs Division. He can be reached by calling (213) 201-1623, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.|