Thursday, February 24, 2005


By William Fisher

The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers further evidence that the Bush Administration continues to delete science and substitute information designed to avoid offending his conservative base.

Every two years, the CDC issues its “Yellow Book”, which contains information for international travelers. It says its “Travelers' Health” section “is one of CDC's most-visited websites and is updated as new information becomes available.”

In its 2001-2002 edition, under the heading “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”, “Travelers Health” offered the following advice to people infected with HIV:

“The importance of safe sex practices should be emphasized to the HIV-infected traveler to prevent other sexually transmitted diseases, avoid transmission of HIV to others, and prevent acquisition of different HIV strains that may limit therapeutic options (e.g., non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors are not active against HIV-2). Bringing a personal supply of condoms may be advisable, as the quality and availability of condoms can be unreliable in parts of the developing world (italics ours).”

But by the time of the 2003-2004 edition, the script had changed. The “C-word” had disappeared.

The 2003-2004 edition advised HIV-infected travelers that “Travel, particularly to developing countries, can carry substantial risks for exposure to opportunistic pathogens…especially those who are severely immunosuppressed. Discussing the itinerary with a health-care provider may identify area- and activity-specific risks that can be addressed. Patients should identify sources of medical care in the planned destination before departure and seek medical attention promptly when ill.”

It continued: “Because antiretroviral medications are not available in many parts of the world, patients should bring an adequate supply of their medications, along with copies of prescriptions. Attention should be given to refrigeration of medications. For extended visits, travelers should consult with their providers in advance regarding a plan for maintaining appropriate medical follow-up and supplies of medications. Avoid changes in the medication regimen shortly before travel, to ensure that no side effects or complications of a new regimen occur while traveling.”

The CDC, part of the Department of Health Human Services, declares the “Yellow Book” is “considered by many to be the gold standard on travel information” and notes it has been expanded to offer new information on scuba diving safety, high altitude travel, travelers with special needs, and traveling with children.

It says the 2003-2004 edition includes “new health topics”, including “New recommendations for preventing malaria; changes in vaccine recommendations for travelers; changes in recommendations for insect repellent use; expanded text motion sickness and travel-related injury, and; improved maps and expanded indexing.”

The change follows a familiar Bush Administration pattern. The CDC website has been changed a number times to reflect conservative ideology.

For example, the President has consistently supported the view that sex education should teach “abstinence only” and not include information on other ways to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. As a result, a CDC initiative called “Programs That Work” identified sex education programs that have been found to be effective in scientific studies and provided this information through its website. All five “Programs That Work” provided comprehensive sex education to teenagers, and none were “abstinence-only”. CDC has now ended this initiative and erased information about these proven sex education programs from its website.

Information about condom use and efficacy was also deleted from the CDC website. The CDC replaced a comprehensive fact sheet on condoms with one emphasizing condom failure rates and the effectiveness of abstinence.

The President’s “just say no” agenda also extends overseas. He has pledged $15 billion in an “Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief”, designed to provide support to the 15 African, Caribbean, and Southeast Asian nations most affected by HIV/aids. But providing condoms is not part of the program. The Bush Administration has also renewed a ban on providing aid funds to overseas groups that help pregnant women, if they so much as discuss abortion.