The director of the National Institute for Health, Elias Zerhouni, sent a letter to members of the House and Senate defending NIH’s funding of research on sexual behavior because of the impact such studies make on public health. This past fall conservative members of the House questioned 10 NIH grants, including a grant to study emergency contraception, reports Kaiser. When NIH requested a list of the studies House members had concerns about, a committee staff member apparently mistakenly sent a list prepared by the right-wing Traditional Values Coalition naming more than 150 scientists researching HIV/AIDS and human sexuality. NIH employees called many of the scientists on the list asking them to provide descriptions of the beneficial aspects of their projects, raising fears that these scientists might lose their funding.
In his letter, Zerhouni argues that the battle against diseases must include behavioral and social factors as well as biological factors, reports the New York Times. Zerhouni also concluded that while some may deem this type of research as distasteful, the studies are important to the public health of the United States because there are 15 million new cases of sexual transmitted diseases each year in the United States, reports Kaiser.
According to the New York Times, the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) criticized NIH for paying for sexual behavior studies that have “bizarre political practices with little or no bearing on public health.” The projects the coalition thought were “bizarre” included a study on truckers, prostitutes, and drug use and a study on emergency contraception.
The letter was praised by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who had earlier sharply criticized the Bush Administration for attacking leading researchers and sacrificing “the integrity at NIH to further a narrow right-wing ideological agenda.” Waxman alleged that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was involved in the creation of the TVC list, even though HHS officials and the executive director of TVC denied HHS involvement.