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Committee Report Scores Federal AIDS-Prevention Efforts

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WASHINGTON--Federal efforts to reduce the spread among teenagers of the virus that causes AIDS have been "underfunded, uncoordinated, and largely unsuccessful,'' a Congressional study concludes.

The study, which was scheduled to be released early this week by the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, finds that there are significant financial, cultural, and institutional barriers that hamper efforts to provide AIDS-prevention education and services to adolescents.

"Denial of the problem at the federal level--where leadership should be paramount--is a national disgrace,'' charges the report, which was compiled by the committee's Democratic majority.

About 9,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 24 have been diagnosed as having AIDS, the report says, and many more are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the disease.

Although the report contains no formal set of recommendations, it has reignited a long-standing argument over the best ways to prevent HŸIŸVŸ transmission. Even before the report's formal release, it was attacked by some Republican members of the panel who maintain that it does not adequately emphasize the value of promoting sexual abstinence as an AIDS-prevention strategy for teenagers.

A draft version of a minority report that was approved by six Republican members of the committee as of late last week contends that traditional prevention strategies that emphasize the use of condoms have not worked.

"Safe sex for teenagers today is clearly not using condoms but in using self-restraint--abstinence,'' says the minority draft report, which was also scheduled to appear in final form early this week. "The fact that some teens engage in unhealthy behavior should not discourage us as a society from promoting moral conduct.''

Charges of Partisanship

At a hearing last week, where the committee approved the release of the majority report by a vote of 22 to 10 along party lines, some Republican members said they were upset because they had had only a week to review the 375-page report.

"This has not been handled in a fair, bipartisan, nonpartisan way,'' said Representative Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, the committee's ranking Republican member.

Some G.O.P. panelists said they objected to language in the majority report stating that condoms, if used properly, have been documented in some studies to have failure rates as low as 0.6 percent. Others objected to a passage that says that "even the most successful abstinence programs have had little effect on the behavior of older teens who were already sexually active and therefore at higher risk of both pregnancy and HŸIŸVŸ''

Representative Patricia Schroeder, the Colorado Democrat who chairs the committee, defended the majority's handling of the report, called "A Decade of Denial: Teens and AIDS in America.''

"We wanted to put this out because it hasn't been done,'' she said. "It shouldn't be that controversial.''

5 Percent of Spending

According to the majority report, the federal government spent $107 million, or about 5 percent of its total HŸIŸVŸ-related budget for the 1991 fiscal year, on research, prevention, and treatment services targeted to adolescents. This figure does not include Medicaid spending, the report says, because federal officials could not determine the cost of HŸIŸVŸ-related services provided to teenagers.

The federal government misses many potential opportunities to address risky behaviors among adolescents that may cause the spread of the virus, the report says. For example, it says, the Education Department prohibits discussion of HŸIŸVŸ risks in its Drug-Free Schools program.

Prevention programs rarely reach the adolescents who are most at risk of being exposed to the virus, the report argues, including homosexual and runaway youths.

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