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SIMMONS: Red ribbons meet red tape

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

This is a life-and-death fact: Today's young people who are 29 or younger have never lived in a world without HIV/AIDS. Do we want another generation to face the same circumstances?

Americans old enough to remember the left-handed Bill Clinton pointing the index finger of his right hand at TV cameras and telling the world in 1995, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," are witnessing the consequences of depending on Washington bureaucrats to curb the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Finger-pointing was the reaction of the day in the 1980s, when gay men and intravenous drug users were dying and the medical and scientific communities didn't know why. Much has been learned since, and HIV/AIDS treatment is prolonging lives each and every day. Prevention remains problematic, as does Washington's meddlesome red tape.

Yet another generation faces life-threatening policies if voters fail to force Washington to change its ways.

Rob Schwarzwalder of the Family Research Council laid out part of the problem in a Feb 3 Op-Ed in The Washington Times. A former congressional staffer, he pointed out the numbers of Americans with HIV/AIDS (nearly 2.2 million) alongside the enormity of the bureaucracy that stumbles over itself to address treatment and research. His tally: "There are no fewer that 45 distinct research initiatives, departmental programs and Web sites devoted to HIV and AIDS."

The State Department and Veterans Administration have programs, and the White House has at least two. One of Mr. Schwarzwalder's former employers, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), "boasts 18 individual initiatives," and that's the very federal agency responsible for coordinating all the federal efforts.

Small wonder "prevention" programs aren't making the grade.

Consider where the president resides and Congress works. D.C. has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the nation - an estimated 2,984 residents per 100,000 over the age of 12, according to numbers released last year by the city. And another scary thought is that the number will tick upward as more youths and adults are tested, as President Obama's new budget proposes.

HIV/AIDS can inflict true human suffering, which is why prevention, treatment and research must remain the top priorities. Dollars and sense - not dollars and cents - should be rule No. 1 when federal lawmakers start scrubbing Mr. Obama's budget numbers.

But there's lots of red tape to untangle, even in the schools.

Identity politics have made the messages murky. On the one hand, messengers tell young people not to have sex, but with the other offer condoms, birth control and abortions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a message, too, but it's not clear if anyone is listening.

MSM, as CDC experts call it - or men having sex with men, as Joe Six-Pack calls it - is a huge transmission problem.

"Gay and bisexual men ... of all races continue to be the risk group most severely affected by HIV," the CDC says in a three-page fact sheet dated August 2009. "Additionally, this is the only risk group in the U.S. in which the annual number of new HIV infections is increasing. There is an urgent need to expand access to proven HIV-prevention interventions for gay and bisexual men, as well as to develop new approaches to fight HIV in this population."

The third page of the fact sheet urges people to protect themselves and "Take control."

The No. 1 way to reduce risk: abstinence.

Now, before you start screaming "vast right-wing conspiracy," that's actually the CDC speaking. Right there on page 3 (www.cdc.gov/NCHHSTP/newsroom/ .../FastFacts-MSM-Final508COMP.pdf): "Don't have sex."

Conservatives really and truly interested in curbing human suffering should remember the CDC's message as they take on Mr. Obama's grand plan.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.