Monday, May 08, 2006

Cowardice at CDC

Another story about missing CDC backbone. This one about a panel presentation, "Public Health Strategies of Abstinence Programs for Youth," slated for the National STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases] Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Fla. Title before Congressman Mark Souder, R-Ind. intervened at DHHS? "Are Abstinence-Only Until Marriage Programs a Threat to Public Health?"

Just a title change, right? A title change plus two panelists whose presentations went through scientific peer review kicked off and two new panelists whose presentations weren't reviewed, substituted. The former presenters, Penn State student Maryjo Oster (whose paper was on how abstinence programs were tied to rising STD rates) and William Smith, director for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States were appearing at their own expense. The travel of the new panelists, Patricia Sulak, the obstetrician and gynecologist Director of the Worth the Wait abstinence advocacy group and Eric Walsh, a California physician, are getting their way paid by HHS. Is this because CDC thinks students are richer than doctors?

The gross political involvement by a right wingnut CongressThing and by CDC was portrayed as a matter of "balance." (Balance as in, "And now, for another view of lynching . . . ") The excuse is the panel didn't have anything good to say about the public health aspects of abstinence programs. Maybe because there isn't anything good to say?
Sex education has been a hot-button topic between public-health officials and politicians for years. The president's 2007 budget request increases abstinence-program funding to $204 million, up $22 million from 2006, according to Bruce Trigg, who heads an STD program in New Mexico and is one of the panel members.

In most of these programs, Trigg said, it is mandated that when condoms are discussed, it is only to point out failure rates and how they are not 100 percent effective.

Condom use does prevent pregnancy and STDs, health officials say, and if people aren't encouraged to use them, they will be at risk for both.

Abstinence-only proponents say it is hard to measure their programs because often other sex education is involved. But [Jonathan Zenilman, president of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association and conference organizer] said the conference panel focused on the problems with abstinence programs because there are no credible data -- and no credible applicants offering otherwise.

"We've spent $1.2 billion over a 25-year period on abstinence-only programs. Shouldn't we have one study that shows that they work?" asked William Smith, director for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. He is no longer on the panel. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
CongressThing Souder emailed HHS, asking if CDC was required to notify HHS about meetings and topics. HHS then contacted CDC. Magically the panel was changed and two non-scientist advocates substituted at HHS expense.

CDC is an agency already staggering under the twin blows of managerial incompetence and infiltration by political aparatchiks. The issue may this time may be abstinence, but once again we all got screwed.

Another example of cowardice at the leadership level at CDC. Nauseating.