U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms said his apology for inaction on the AIDS epidemic didn't mean he's altered his views on homosexuality or his belief that government spending on AIDS research is excessive compared to the money needed to cure other illnesses.
Helms, R-N.C., told a Christian conference in Washington last month that he'd been "too lax too long in doing something really significant about AIDS."
Helms pledged Tuesday he would work during his remaining months in the Senate to direct more attention and funding to the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 28 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS.
Helms said his views hadn't changed about U.S. funding priorities for medical research. "We're taking so much money away from scientists looking into heart problems and other medical defects of humanity and dumping it into research on AIDS," he said.
Helms also remained highly critical of gay-rights activists, with whom he clashed repeatedly during the 1990s, and said he still disapproves of the "homosexual lifestyle."
"I don't have any idea on changing my views on that kind of activity, which is the primary cause of the doubling and redoubling of AIDS cases in the United States," Helms told North Carolina reporters in his Washington office.
Last month's conference on the Christian response to the worldwide problem of HIV and AIDS was organized by Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief organization based in Boone, N.C., and led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Franklin Graham had called for a worldwide campaign against AIDS and Helms seemed to agree.
"You can't avoid the seriousness of HIV/AIDS," Helms said at the conference. "Whether it be in Africa or in the United States, the treachery is the same. And the treachery is in ignoring it."
But Helms and his staff said Tuesday his comments at the conference didn't apply to domestic AIDS issues involving homosexuals.
"If it had extended to them, I would have said so. That conference was about AIDS in Africa," Helms said.
Health-care advocates, who greeted reports of Helms remarks last month favorably, expressed disappointment Tuesday when hearing of Helms' more detailed explanations.
"It seemed too good to be true, and I guess it was," said Jacquelyn Clymore, director for the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina in Raleigh. "His compassion for the people in Africa is commendable. It's too bad he doesn't have the same compassion for his own people."
Of the 40 million people worldwide estimated to be infected with HIV or AIDS, about 28.1 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 850,000 to 950,000 Americans are infected with HIV or AIDS.
In the United States, more than 77 percent of people with AIDS are intravenous drug users or men who have sex with other men, according to CDC figures. In Africa, the disease has spread primarily through heterosexual contact.
Helms suggested he is focusing on Africa partly because of his role as the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and party because of the extent of the crisis there.