NIH Report Questions Effectiveness of Condoms Against STDs
An NIH report to be released today says that there is "insufficient evidence" that male latex condoms prevent transmission of "most" STDs other than HIV and gonorrhea, giving advocates of "abstinence-only" sex education "fresh ammunition," the Washington Post reports (Connolly, Washington Post, 7/20). The 30-page report, which grew out of a June 2000 meeting of officials from NIH, CDC, FDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, concludes that more research is needed to determine whether condom use can protect effectively against transmission of human papillomavirus, chlamydia, syphilis, chancroid, trichomoniasis and genital herpes. However, the report states that evidence "clear[ly]" supports condom use for preventing the spread of HIV and gonorrhea in males. More than 65 million Americans are infected with an STD and about 15 million new infections occur annually, the report states (McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 7/20).
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The report, requested by former Rep. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), has already "sparked bitter squabbling and markedly different interpretations," the Post reports. Conservatives such as Coburn, who support federal funding for abstinence-only sex education over traditional family planning education, said yesterday that the report is "proof that the term 'safe sex' is a myth" (Washington Post, 7/20). However, Jeff Spieler, an official with USAID who was one of the 28 members of the panel that worked on the report, said that the report "doesn't make clear enough" that when used correctly, condoms "should be close to 100% effective in preventing gonorrhea in women, chlamydia and trichomoniasis." He added that while the "evidence is not as strong" for STDs other than HIV and gonorrhea, there is "no reason" to believe condoms do not offer protection against those as well. Another unnamed person "close" to the report process told the Post, "It is extremely important that the public understand the difference between data being inadequate and condoms being inadequate" (Washington Post, 7/20). Some members of the panel also pointed out that studies on which the report's conclusions are based had several "problems." Some did not have a large enough sample size to be considered accurate, while "many" of the studies were done among "high-risk" groups such as sex workers and STD clinic patients. "For most studies the ability to document exposure to disease in relationship to condom use was uncertain," the report says (McQueen, Associated Press, 7/19).