The Department of Health and Human Services stripped from a authorities web site HIV/AIDS instructional materials that featured condoms, calling the photographs “unapproved,” in keeping with official correspondence obtained by Kaiser Health News.
The pictures had been included in a 2017 truth sheet posted by HHS’ Office on Women’s Health to mark National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. A directive to take away it from HHS servers was contained in an Aug. 1, 2017, email from a junior department employee to Palladian Partners, a federal contractor that focuses on communications about well being and science training.
The condoms had been featured on a truth sheet and included in a social media marketing campaign on Facebook meant to unfold messages on the right way to cut back HIV transmission amongst girls and women. “Since it contains the unapproved condom imagery, we were hoping you could remove this file from the server,” the federal government official wrote. The doc — which wasn’t publicly linked on the company’s WomensHealth.gov website on the time ― was faraway from the federal government’s server that morning.
Kaiser Health News was supplied the HHS emails by American Oversight, a left-leaning, nonprofit authorities watchdog group that obtained them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The HHS company’s website lists abstinence as its first type of prevention, saying, “The best way to prevent HIV is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex or share needles at any time.” It then mentions condoms.
For those that are sexually energetic, condoms are well known as the best technique for stopping HIV and different illnesses, if used appropriately. Experts additionally say condom use must be promoted as a part of a broader prevention technique together with safe-sex behaviors, elevated testing and drugs equivalent to pre-exposure prophylaxis ― generally generally known as PrEP.
“To me, it should be PrEP, it should be condoms, it should be contraception. To me, that’s more realistic for women,” mentioned Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a New York University professor who makes a speciality of HIV/AIDS prevention. “It should be together.”
Palladian Partners is a communications agency owned by Altarum, which says it’s within the enterprise of serving to “federal and state agencies and other organizations improve health outcomes.” Palladian labored with HHS’ girls’s well being workplace as half of a bigger contract with Hager Sharp, one other communications firm.
“All people deserve accessible information about health and science,” reads a blurb from Amy Ewing, vice chairman of Palladian Partners, in explaining Palladian’s mission on its website. “Using social marketing and plain language, we connect audiences to the messages they need to live better, healthier lives.”
Palladian’s contract to supply communications help to the ladies’s well being workplace led to June. While the agency would make suggestions about content material, HHS made last choices about supplies on its web site. The agency didn’t make a suggestion concerning the removing of condom imagery, in keeping with its president, Beth Maloney.
In 2017, girls accounted for 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses, in keeping with HHS. More than 236,000 grownup and adolescent girls had been dwelling with a recognized HIV an infection within the U.S. on the finish of 2017, in keeping with a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Source: HHS emails supplied by American Oversight)
An HHS spokesperson declined to touch upon whether or not the choice to take down truth sheets with the condom pictures — which appeared within the division’s 2016 supplies as properly ― was a part of a broader division coverage to not embrace condom pictures in HIV/AIDS instructional supplies. HHS nonetheless mentions condoms as a prevention instrument on some web sites and fact sheets.
“HHS routinely reviews and updates online content, which may include revision or removal of content that is no longer current, underutilized or available elsewhere,” the spokesperson mentioned, including that the 2017 truth sheet was eliminated “as part of routine maintenance” and no approval “seems to have occurred” for the 2016 and 2017 pictures.
HHS lately has been criticized for eradicating info and well being sources from authorities web sites, together with content material associated to LGBT health that beforehand appeared on WomensHealth.gov.
HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, which oversees the ladies’s well being workplace, was led by Dr. Don Wright when the emails about unapproved condom pictures had been despatched. Wright, who had been the division’s appearing head, is a profession civil servant and has labored for administrations of each Democratic and Republican presidents.
He was succeeded in February 2018 by Dr. Brett Giroir, a political appointee nominated by President Donald Trump.
The Office on Women’s Health periodically adjustments its instructional messages associated to HIV prevention for ladies and women; in 2016 and 2017, the theme was “The Best Defense Is a Good Offense.” Associated promotional logos designed for social media and paperwork displayed multicolored pictures of particular person condoms.
(Source: HHS emails supplied by American Oversight)
For 2018 and 2019, the message had modified to “HIV Prevention Starts With Me.” Government-issued promotional supplies emphasised HIV testing and taking prevention treatment, particularly PrEP. The fact sheets didn’t point out condoms.
HHS has made boosting entry to PrEP a serious a part of Trump’s objective to halt new transmissions of HIV within the United States by 2030, an initiative he introduced throughout his 2019 State of the Union deal with.
“We’ve secured a donation of prevention medication for 200,000 uninsured Americans. We’ve made planning grants to the 57 jurisdictions that account for half of the new infections in America. And we’ve already started implementation in four jurisdictions,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar mentioned in a speech to division workers in early February. “That is an incredible set of results in one year.”
The most up-to-date HHS supplies included extra details about taking treatment to scale back danger, however much less element on different elements of prevention ― notably on what constitutes safe-sex practices. For instance, fliers from 2018 and 2019 inspired girls and women to “practice safe sex” however didn’t elaborate. HHS declined to touch upon this alteration.
“I think for any demographic it’s too vague. What does that mean? Everyone has a different threshold,” mentioned Kim Molnar with The AIDS Institute, a affected person advocacy group.
An earlier model of the flier, from 2016, went into larger element about behaviors which might be protecting in opposition to HIV an infection, for ladies and women in addition to their companions ― together with utilizing condoms each time they’ve intercourse, not abusing medication or alcohol and interesting in sexual exercise with a monogamous associate. However, Guilamo-Ramos mentioned the 2016 paperwork might have benefited from extra context about sure populations at larger danger for HIV an infection.
The federal authorities sponsors HIV/AIDS consciousness days yearly for various teams, together with younger folks, homosexual males, African Americans and Latinos. The one for ladies and women is held yearly on March 10. This yr, HHS mentioned, it should stick to the theme of the previous two years.