HRC Warily Expresses Hope That Administration's HIV/AIDS Office Shake-Up Will Lead To Renewed Commitment In Fighting The Disease

On July 19th, The Human Rights Campaign guardedly expressed hope that
the Bush administration's reshuffling of key HIV/AIDS personnel might lead
to increased commitment and more comprehensive strategies in fighting the
disease.

"While this shake-up has caused much speculation and uncertainty, we
are cautiously hoping that these moves will reinvigorate the Bush
administration's efforts to create a comprehensive HIV and AIDS strategy to
battle the disease at home and abroad," said HRC Political Director Winnie
Stachelberg. "This is an opportunity for the administration to reverse
course, take this life-and-death issue off the backburner and reassert
American leadership. We hope they are up to the daunting task at hand."

The administration announced today the removal of Scott H. Evertz
from his current position as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy
and transferred him to the department of Health and Human Services, where he
will focus on global AIDS issues while working under HHS Secretary Tommy G.
Thompson.

There has been speculation that Evertz may have been forced out of
his position by conservatives upset with Evertz's close association with gay
groups and his support of condom usage as an effective means to stop
transmission of HIV, says HRC. Last year Evertz became the first ever openly
gay appointee by a Republican administration and marked the first time an
openly gay person held the post. During the presidential campaign Evertz was
one of a dozen openly gay Republicans to meet with Bush in Austin, Texas.

The administration announced that openly gay physician Joseph F.
O'Neill, who is now acting chief of the AIDS policy office at HHS, will
replace Evertz. Prior to entering public service, O'Neill worked on the
staff of the Chase Brexton Clinic in Baltimore, Md.

"O'Neill has the experience and the medical training to make
immediate contributions to the fight against HIV and AIDS," said
Stachelberg. "We look forward to working with him in creating effective
strategies and implementing advanced policies that help save lives."
In another controversial move, Patricia Ware, executive director of the
Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, is reportedly expected to be
removed from her post. Ware was a favorite of conservatives for her
anti-condom advocacy and outspoken support of "abstinence only" programs. No
replacement for Ware has yet been named.

From day one, the right wing was infuriated with the appointment of
Evertz and worked to undermine his work.
"Evertz's whole approach is homosexuality is a viable life
alternative…that it's part of God's design in humanity," said Lou Sheldon,
chairman, Traditional Values Coalition after Evertz was put in charge of
ONAP. "Bible-believing Christians don't believe that for one second."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
the number of people living with AIDS in the United States increased 33
percent between 1996 and 1999. Between June 1999 and June 2000, the number
of people living with HIV or AIDS reported to the CDC increased an
additional 10 percent. There are an estimated 312,000 people living with
AIDS in the United States, and the CDC estimates as many as 900,000
Americans are infected with HIV.

According to a multiple state study by the CDC, researchers found
that HIV rates had stabilized at about 16,000 new cases each year. From 1994
to 2000, 43 percent of diagnoses were among homosexual and bisexual men, 27
percent were people infected through heterosexual transmission and 23
percent of infections came from injection drug use. Half of the new
infections each year in the United States are youth, roughly 20,000.

"As frightening as the statistics on HIV and AIDS are, the problem
has the potential to get much worse if the administration does not embark
upon the right course of action," said Stachelberg. "We urge the
administration to embrace comprehensive prevention programs and use sound
science in making policy decisions that will have an impact on the lives of
millions of people."

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