CDC dances with scandal

What would have otherwise been considered a minor conference on prevention of HIV infection this week in Atlanta has gained national notoriety thanks to a Latin dance session that appears on the agenda at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Both U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Times have reported on the use of federal funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pay for Musica Against Drugs with Ritmo de la Noche and Grupo Yohuba.

The conference is designed to help small organizations in the African-American and Hispanic communities meet the challenge of rising HIV infection rates.

But the conference’s mission has been eclipsed by recent investigations revealing scandalous abuse of funds administered under the Ryan White CARE Act — first drafted in 1990 to meet basic food, shelter and medical requirements of people with AIDS. Last year, FBI agents found that staffers at a Dallas clinic blew tens of thousands of dollars on home appliances, shopping sprees to Neiman Marcus and calls to a psychic hotline.

In the current climate, it’s not surprising that the CDC would raise some eyebrows with a little entertainment on the agenda.

“When you know people who really need the money but who can’t get it, and here they are having tango lessons,” says Jean Barnes, a member of the Atlanta chapter of ACTUP. “These people need to be run out of town on a rail.”

But not everyone agrees. Those who work at Atlanta agencies that also receive federal funding point out that dances and other supposedly frivolous workshops are actually times when staffers and volunteers can meet their counterparts from other regions and find out what works in the fight against the spread of HIV.??

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