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Bush’s First AIDS Czar: ‘Abstinence Only Education Simply Has No Meaning For Certain Populations’

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"Bush’s First AIDS Czar: ‘Abstinence Only Education Simply Has No Meaning For Certain Populations’"

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On Monday, health officials in Washington D.C. released a report showing that “at least 3 percent of District residents have HIV or AIDS, a total that far surpasses the 1 percent threshold that constitutes a ‘generalized and severe’ epidemic.”

ThinkProgress interviewed Scott Evertz — director of the Office of National AIDS Policy from 2001 to 2002 — about his reaction to the report:

Shocking, but we shouldn’t be particularly shocked. We’ve known for some time that in the District and other place where we see severe economic disparities that the prevalence is as high in some of the countries that we’re assisting in Africa. I think what needs to be continued to be worked on is to recognize the differences in risk groups and the messaging and how you get messages into specific risk group populations.

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Funding for government-sponsored domestic AIDS/HIV initiatives like the Ryan White Program flat lined during Bush’s tenure, as the administration focused its efforts around faith and community-based organizations preaching abstinence-only. In the District, the administration “called for renewing restrictions on the D.C. government’s ability to use its own funds for such purposes as a needle-exchange program for drug addicts,” despite city’s insistence that such programs were “crucial to curbing the spread of HIV and AIDS.”

Evertz, who himself “was forced out of his job at the White House in July of 2002” after bulking the conservative orthodoxy on needle exchange programs and safe-sex education for teenagers, rebuked the Bush administration’s one-size-fits-all approach to fighting the domestic AIDS epidemic.

“I think what needs to be continued to be worked on is to recognize the differences in risk groups and the messaging and how you get messages into specific risk group populations,” he said. “Abstinence until marriage has meaning to very few young gay people in the United States because they can’t get married. So I don’t think I’m being disingenuous to suggest that that message means nothing to a young gay person who’s struggling coming out.”

Transcript:

Shocking, but we shouldn’t be particularly shocked. We’ve known for some time that in the District and other place where we see severe economic disparities that the prevalence is as high in some of the countries that we’re assisting in Africa.

I think what needs to be continued to be worked on is to recognize the differences in risk groups and the messaging and how you get messages into specific risk group populations. So, for instance in the District, you’re seeing an increase in African American women, heterosexual transmission is in large part responsible for some of the spikes that we’re seeing. Some of the messaging hasn’t always been directed towards African American women of color.

Also, a very high risk group in the District are African American men who have sex with men. That too is a specific group and I’m not sure that the messaging and the programming is always specifically targeted to those groups and I’m a little concerned that there’s discussion that we’re moving to a generalized epidemic to a concentrated epidemic and I think that might lead some to assume that we need to generalize messaging and prevention tools when in fact we need to do just the opposite and that’s a more concentrated effort per risk group so that the messaging is understood and received by those who are most at risk.

There has been, a fair amount of funding for abstinence based programming, for the last eight years, during the last administration. In fact, an increase in funding, and this would speak to the fact that abstinence based programs in and of themselves may not necessarily be the answer. So I think if there is outreach…Look there are a lot of strategies on a continuum, a prevention continuum, abstinence plays a role, but abstinence only education certainly doesn’t play a role because these messages simply have no meaning for certain populations. Certainly, abstinence until marriage has meaning to very few young gay people in the United States because they can’t get married.

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