AIDS ACTIVISTS: Protest Alleged Mismanagement of Funds
Twelve ACT UP San Francisco members interrupted a Senate Appropriations Committee health subcommittee hearing on AIDS complacency and funding Monday, charging that "government officials staged the secret hearing and invited only AIDS bureaucrats that promote alarmist rhetoric to garner more federal funding." Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), California Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D) and UC-San Francisco researcher Thomas Coates were at the meeting in San Francisco (ACT UP/SF release, 2/14). Committee Chair Specter "insisted on giving the activists an opportunity to speak" (Aguila, San Francisco Examiner, 2/15). Protesters carried signs reading "Stop Funding AIDS Terror" and yelled, "AIDS disappears as CDC funds fear" and "Corruption not complacency is the real AIDS news." Other activists put stickers that read "AIDS is Over" on the walls. ACT UP/SF member David Pasquarelli said of the meeting, "It's a disgrace. The Senate holds a secret hearing excluding people who aren't on the AIDS gravy train. If this is indicative of how Congress plans to conduct Ryan White hearings this spring, the American public is in trouble." He added, "Instead of private hearings on AIDS complacency, Congress should conduct a public investigation of AIDS fraud." ACT UP/SF members maintain that "despite dramatic across-the-board drops in new U.S. AIDS cases ... the CDC and AIDS organizations and health departments that receive CDC money constantly promote an alarming message of unfounded AIDS paranoia to justify increased federal dollars." Further, the group argues that most of the money "never reaches patients, but is instead spent on high non-profit salaries and overhead" (ACT UP/SF release, 2/14).
A Different View
Boxer said that the "protesters are sending the wrong message," adding, "Anyone that goes around saying there's no AIDS is doing a disservice." She said that she was "hopeful that future federally funded programs would reverse the nation's growing complacency about AIDS." As San Francisco has the highest rate of AIDS cases per 100,000 residents in the United States, Pelosi said, "We (in San Francisco) have been a model for responding to this epidemic. Prevention has to be very frank." More than 15,000 San Francisco residents have HIV. Migden emphasized the "need to keep interest high in fighting AIDS," saying, "We have gone a long way over the last decade in educating some segment of society about AIDS, but recently we have come to understand that new and differing populations of people are becoming high risk for HIV infection" (San Francisco Examiner, 2/15). Dorothy Mann, board member of AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families, testified during the hearing, calling for new strategies and funding to help reverse the growing complacency about HIV. "Unfortunately, media reports about the success of new treatments have led many people, including those from high- risk groups, to become less concerned about becoming infected with HIV and more likely to engage in risk behaviors," she said. Imploring the committee to consider programs that help people with HIV reduce their risk behaviors, she added, "We have focused HIV prevention efforts almost exclusively on uninfected people, and we have largely ignored those who are already infected. Out of every $100 that is spent on HIV prevention in Philadelphia, only $2.84 is directed specifically towards HIV-positive people." Mann also advocated for needle exchanges, blasting the "federal restrictions on funding for these lifesaving programs," and asserting, "If we are to wage an all-out war on HIV, we cannot allow politics to take precedence over science" (AIDS Alliance release, 2/14).