LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Supervisors Vote To Launch Safe Sex Campaign
In response to a recent syphilis outbreak among gay men, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a comprehensive media campaign to promote safe sex and aggressive condom distribution, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supervisors also asked the county Department of Health Services to develop more expedient STD reporting and to "assess the role of public and commercial sex venues in contributing to the spread of disease." Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked that the department act on the proposals within 14 days, saying, "We need to ratchet up the level of education and information and remind the general public about the risks of unprotected sex." Public officials are concerned that the outbreak among 26 men -- mostly in West Hollywood, Hollywood and Silver Lake -- "is an alarming signal that condom use and other safe sex practices are on the wane." But Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called the board's action "too little, too late," arguing that "the county has known for years of a growing epidemic in unsafe sexual practices." He called for a "total restructuring of [county] prevention efforts." Weinstein also said that West Hollywood bar owners' participation in a voluntary condom distribution program is "abysmally low" and promoted his proposal that would make condom distribution mandatory in about 70 straight and gay bars that derive more than half their revenue from alcohol. The city of West Hollywood would be responsible for purchasing the 500,000 condoms and distributing them, along with safe-sex literature, to the bars. Weinstein added that "health officials need to invest heavily in halting the spread of HIV, emulating anti-smoking campaigns with smart, compelling messages." Hillary Selvin, executive director of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, disagreed with Weinstein's assertion of low compliance with the voluntary program, calling it "incorrect." Currently, the county spends about $15 million of its $75 million HIV budget on prevention. "We certainly think more (prevention dollars) would be better," Dr. Jonathan Fielding, county director of public health, said, adding, "But it's not only a question of getting out the message -- it (has to be) persuasive" (Marquis, 3/29).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.