Sizzling Sex Seminars Have Watchdogs Wondering Where the AIDS Money Is Going

So much HIV/AIDS-related funding is subject to waste and fraud that some patients could actually be suffering from it, a Washington-based government watchdog charged Friday.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan organization dedicated to rooting out fiscal mismanagement in the federal government, released a study this week complaining that about $1 billion out of $13 billion in total HIV/AIDS funding has already been wasted this year.

"The AIDS activists who we worked with know plenty of patients who are waiting in line for life-saving or life-prolonging drugs, while a housing administrator in Tampa is spending federal money on Tampa Bay Buccaneer tickets," said CAGW researcher Kerrie Rezac, referring to one of the many examples of administrative fraud detailed in "AIDS Programs: An Epidemic of Waste."

"This report will do a lot of people good," she said. "We're just trying to get the money to the people who need it."

AIDS activist Wayne Turner, co-founder of ACTUP-DC!, a locally-based HIV/AIDS activist organization, urged CAGW to conduct the study. He also has approached members of Congress to look into funding abuses in the HIV/AIDS community.

"As an AIDS activist, someone who lost a partner to AIDS, I can say that it is so important that people living with and dying from this disease have access to the services necessary to keep them alive," he said at the press conference releasing the report.

But Marsha Martin, executive director of Washington-based AIDS Action, said most of the waste and fraud in the report is old news that has already been rectified.

"It's very much an attempt to redirect resources from HIV/AIDS," she said. "That's not what we need right now when we have new numbers and an absence of leadership in HIV/AIDS research and prevention."

According to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, 774,767 Americans have contracted AIDS over the last 20 years. Of that number, 462,766 have died. In 1996 alone, the National Institutes of Health spent $43,000 for every AIDS death, compared to $1,160 it spent for every heart disease death, according to CAGW, which said 14 million Americans have died from heart disease in the last two decades.

The study takes particular aim at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC, which spent $795 million on prevention programs in fiscal year 2001. The CDC is already under investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services for questionable program funding.

Among the questionable programs, the HHS inspector general in October pointed to some programs that actually promote unsafe sex.

The CAGW report found a number of such programs, such as the flirting classes offered by San Francisco's Positive Force, which receives $1 million annually from the CDC that goes to those classes and to host a "Poz Prom" for people with HIV/AIDS.

The Stop AIDS Project, also in San Francisco, had been under public scrutiny for sponsoring programs that are said to promote promiscuity. The CAGW study found that the group, which received $700,000 from the CDC in 2001, is sponsoring at the end of the month "GUYWATCH: Blow by Blow," a seminar to teach gay men how to turn on their partners.

When asked about their programs earlier this month, Stop AIDS Director Darlene Weide said, "We did everything by the book, we did everything by the rules and we'll continue to do that."

Rezac said the government needs to make sure local groups are applying federal standards before it gives out any more money and AIDS groups need to be open-minded about the report.

"If people read it with a careful eye and open minds, they'll realize that we're not tying to get rid of funding, we're just trying to get it to those who need it most."