A group of doctors Tuesday claimed that the federal government, specifically the Centers for Disease Control, has for at least a year suppressed a study about the effectiveness of condoms and endangered thousands of American lives in the process.
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The doctors claim that the government has known about the limitations of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted diseases but nevertheless mounted a campaign that deliberately misrepresented the risks in sex education curricula and public health programs.
"The entire public health model developed by the CDC and based on the idea that condoms offer protection, is a lie," said Dr. Hall Wallis, a member of consortium. "The skeleton is now out of the closet."
At a Washington, D.C., news conference, the 10,000-member Physicians Consortium claimed that the CDC has known for years that while condoms are 85 percent effective in helping prevent the spread of HIV, they offer less protection against sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and genital herpes.
Word of the condoms’ shortfalls came in a panel report released Friday by the National Institutes of Health.
While finding that latex condoms can be effective in preventing the spread of HIV and in protecting men from contracting gonorrhea from a female partner, the NIH panel concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" that condoms protect against other STDs.
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While the report said the lack of evidence should not be interpreted as proof of the adequacy or inadequacy of the condom, it nonetheless says there is no proof that such protection helped to stop the transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), which affects an estimated 20 million Americans.
Primarily transmitted by sexual contact, certain strains of high-risk HPV, or genital warts, can lead to cervical cancer in women.
The CDC had no comment on the doctors’ charges, but released a statement saying it welcomes "more study to better determine the exact effectiveness of condoms" and says it will continue to advise that abstinence is "the surest protection" from STDs.
But the doctors consortium said the government is covering up what it has known for at least a year and is loath to admit it openly.
"This is not about whether or not people should use condoms, it’s about whether people ought to be told the whole truth about the efficacy of condoms," said physician Tom Coburn, a former congressman.
"This has all the earmarks of a good old-fashioned medical cover-up," said Dr. John R. Diggs Jr., a consortium member from Massachusetts.
The consortium, in a letter to President Bush dated July 23, called for the resignation of CDC Director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, saying "only fresh and bold leadership at the CDC" will help fight what they are calling an epidemic of sexual transmitted diseases.
According to the report released Friday, about 15 million new STD infections occur every year in the country. Thus far, approximately 493,000 Americans have died from AIDS and between 800,000 and 900,000 are living with HIV.
The consortium also called on the Federal Drug Administration to heighten awareness about the deficiencies of condoms with new labeling, and asked that the government and all its contractors and health agencies update their information and campaigns with accurate statistics.
Those contractors would include Planned Parenthood, which has long decried "abstinence-only" sex education and instead encouraged the use of condoms. Teenagers, the group says, are going to have sex no matter how much abstinence is encouraged.
"Planned Parenthood encourages responsible sexual behavior - and we offer the education, information and medical services Americans need to help them manage their sexual health," the group said in response to the consortium’s charges.
The group said it will continue to encourage the use of condoms, and that there needs to be more research on the true efficacy of condoms.
"Attempts to use the report to advance so-called abstinence-only education, which has not been shown to be effective, serves neither public health nor the public interest," it said.