January 21, 2004

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chairman, Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services,
Education and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. Senate
SDOB 184
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Specter:

I am writing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to comment on the research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will be discussed at the hearing you will be chairing January 22. The AAA appreciates the strong support you have demonstrated for NIH and recognizes the duty of Congress to oversee the NIH and consider the recent allegations of improper funding of research raised by the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC).

The list of studies identified by the TVC includes, for the most part, research associated with the understanding, intervention and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The major transmission routes of HIV/AIDS are through human behavior -- sexual behavior and intravenous drug use. The transmission of HIV/AIDS through blood transfusion declined dramatically once changes in the screening and selection processes associated with collecting blood were adopted. Until a vaccine is discovered, research on this deadly pandemic is focused necessarily on the human behaviors associated with HIV/AIDS to better understand the conditions that promote transmission of the disease and to develop intervention and prevention strategies that halt or discourage its transmission. In the meantime, research continues on developing pharmaceutical treatments to manage HIV/AIDS.

The studies cited by TVC represent an unfortunate reality. For example, we know from international research that truck stops frequented by truck drivers and prostitutes are a significant locale for the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Truck drivers in turn may transmit the disease to their spouses or partners, and infected spouses or partners may transmit the disease to their unborn children. We know, too, from research that alcohol and drug use weaken individuals' decision-making capabilities and may lead to risk-taking behaviors that transmit HIV/AIDS.

Like all infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS knows no borders. It occurs across the globe, from China to the US. While it occurs more frequently within at-risk populations, increasingly heterosexual men, women and children are counted among those infected. The costs of HIV/AIDS are very real, resulting in physical and financial tolls on individuals' infected, their families, and the health care system in the United States and the world. If left unchecked, HIV/AIDS will have a major adverse impact on our global economic system.

These private behaviors have real public health consequences, and it is for this reason that these research studies have passed the rigorous peer-review system and received support from NIH. We urge you to consider the importance of these studies to stemming HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, among others that threaten the public's health.

By way of background, the AAA, established in 1902, is the world's largest organization of anthropologists. The AAA represents the interests of the discipline of anthropology, including medical anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology. Anthropologists are conducting research on the broad range of social, cultural and economic factors related to disease transmission, health care seeking, adherence to medication, and public health.


Elizabeth Brumfiel, Ph.D.

Cc: Senator Tom Harkin, Ranking Minority Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies


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