Letter to the Editor
Jocelyn Kaiser’s article on William Steiger, the point person on international health for U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson (“The man behind the memos,” News Focus, 10 Sept., p. 1552), is decidedly one-sided. She interviewed me at length, and although I support his policies and admire his professionalism, none of my views, or those of other supporters, are mentioned.
Scientists cry “academic freedom” when their travel is cut, as happened with the AIDS conference in Bangkok. Steiger, as well as journalists and health experts, knew this conference had become unruly and unproductive.1
Kaiser writes that Steiger’s support of the Bush administration’s “controversial” position on abstinence in HIV prevention programs “ruffled feathers” among researchers. She neglects to mention how promotion of abstinence is dramatically reducing HIV/AIDS infections in Uganda.2
Furthermore, Steiger is doing his job when refusing to fund any conference that undermines the administration’s approach to procuring safe and effective AIDS drugs. Kaiser fails to mention how the administration’s position has been supported by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) removal of five AIDS drugs from its list because of unproven quality. South Africa has banned at least one of the drugs that the Administration refused to buy until tested.
The fact that Steiger approves HHS staff involvement in WHO activities may upset some researchers. Yet all government agencies routinely approve which researchers attend meetings as U.S. representatives. It is Steiger’s job to coordinate the U.S. position with inputs from many agencies with expertise most appropriate for any particular conference. He does this job in the best interests of the country, and does it well.