By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY
A draft government report on the effectiveness of condoms says there's "insufficient" evidence to say that they guard against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, other than HIV and gonorrhea in men.
Critics fear that Bush administration will use the report, obtained Thursday by USA TODAY, to bolster its support for federally funded "abstinence only" sexual education programs, which restrict schools from teaching children about other methods of protection.
Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson awarded an additional $17 million for abstinence only education programs, now in all 50 states.
The National Institute of Health report, says research published so far is too flimsy to draw "definite conclusions about the effectiveness of the latex male condom in reducing the transmission of these diseases," namely gonorrhea in women, chlamydia, trichomonas and human papilloma virus, linked to cervical cancer.
"Sexually transmitted disease is a serious health problem in America, but it is almost entirely preventable through behavior choices, especially abstinence and commitment to a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner," Thompson is quoted as saying in a draft release to accompany the report. He added that condoms represent an important method for preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and "we need to keep learning more about condom effectiveness."
Yet the government's own milestones for improving the population's health, called "Healthy People 2010," promote condom use by sexually active adults and teens who do not practice abstinence. "Condoms, if used correctly and consistently, can help prevent both unintended pregnancies and STDs," the report states.
Many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also endorse condom use.
Government officials declined to comment on the report.
The report is the result of a process that began a year ago at a workshop on "condom effectiveness" sponsored by several government agencies. But several relevant studies were not considered by participants because they hadn't been published or were overlooked, says one attendee, Ward Cates, president of the non-profit family planning organization Family Health International and former director of the STD program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"From a public health perspective," Cates says, "the data support the use of condoms for HIV prevention. The question of whether condoms prevent other STDS is moot, because we should go full out to advocate them for HIV prevention. I don't want to talk down abstinence, because for a niche market it's a very good prevention strategy."
"There are no data showing that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs work," says James Wagoner, of the nonprofit Advocates for Youth, which supports comprehensive sexual education. "The Institute of Medicine has called on the federal government to stop funding these programs."
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