NIH Spends Tax Dollars to Study Circumcisions of Gay Men in Colombia, Transgenders in India

The federal government is giving millions of taxpayers' dollars to universities and colleges throughout the United States to study the stigma of transgender communities in India, the perception of circumcision among gay men in Colombia, alcohol-related sex behaviors and risks in African countries, and a text messaging intervention program for people living with tuberculosis in Argentina, among others.

The National Institutes of Health issued a $355,825 grant to Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, to fund a two-year study on a stigma-reducing program for India's transgender population, known as the "Project Shakti: Stigma Reduction Health Care Provider Awareness and Knowledge" that cost taxpayers $173,221 in 2011 and $182,604 in 2012.

A description of the study, which will be completed in August states that "HIV prevalence is disproportionately high among male-to-female transgenders (Hijra) in India."

The stigma surrounding India's transgender community, according to the study, reduces the likelihood that they'll be tested for HIV, receive HIV treatment from health care providers, and "creates a barrier to HIV protective behavior." Thus, taxpayers are funding a project to "develop and pilot health care provider-focused stigma reducing intervention," among 50 health care providers in Mumbai, India, to increase HIV services to the transgender community, and to study the reasons behind the stigma of transgender people among health care providers.

A similar grant was awarded to the University of California, San Francisco, in 2012 in the amount of $489,170 to study the "Influence of Stigma and Discrimination on HIV Risk Among Men in China."

Likewise, that same year, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., received a $550,260 grant as part of a $2.9 million five-year grant to study whether homosexual men who live in the five largest cities in Colombia know about circumcision and its impact on STIs and HIV transmission. The study is titled "HIV Prevalence, Sexual Behavior, and Attitudes Toward Circumcision: Colombian MSM," and has a completion date of March 2014.

The purpose of the $2.9 million study is to find out if homosexual men who live in Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla, Colombia, agree with circumcision or would consider being circumcised to reduce their risk of HIV or STDs. The research is being conducted by gathering their responses from focus group participation or by answering survey questions. Part of the study participants, ages 15 to 49, will be tested for HIV.

Thus far, the study's findings reveal that participants don't believe circumcision will protect them from infections. According to the study, "… most participants reported knowing something about the procedure. Overall, attitudes towards circumcision were mixed: although circumcision was viewed as safe, it was also viewed as unnatural and cruel to babies."

Project information for the Colombia study cites its public health significance to its ability to "contribute to knowledge concerning HIV prevalence and risk behavior in an understudied group at high risk for HIV."

A spokesperson for the National Institutes of Health told The Christian Post on Monday that these taxpayer-funded studies are necessary "because HIV/AIDS is a global epidemic," and therefore "requires research be conducted around the world in different populations to ensure prevention strategies are acceptable and appropriate among all demographics."

"Grant applications to the NIH go through a rigorous two step peer review process to assess scientific merit," the NIH spokesperson said. "A grant generally is awarded in annual increments. At NIH, grants on average are for four years – meaning they receive four annual incremental awards. The award is reviewed for progress each year prior to the provision of the next increment of funding."

"The first level of review is carried out by a Scientific Review Group composed primarily of non-federal scientists who have expertise in relevant scientific disciplines and current research areas. The second level of review is performed by Institute and Center National Advisory Councils or Boards (the NIH consists of 27 institutes and centers.) These advisory councils are composed of both scientific and public representatives chosen for their expertise, interest, or activity in matters related to health and disease. Only applications that are favorably recommended by both the SRG and the Advisory Council may be recommended for funding. NIH institutes and centers then make decisions about funding based on those scores and research priorities," the NIH spokesperson said.

According to the NIH, approximately 1.2 million people in the U.S., 13 and older, "are living with HIV/AIDS, with 50,000 new HIV infections diagnosed annually, a rate that has remained relatively stable since 2006." And it "awards grants in support of HIV-related research and HIV prevention at all levels – from understanding the virus's activity on a molecular level, to understanding practices that affect its transmission. The development of effective interventions for HIV/AIDS prevention depends on a scientific foundation of behavioral research that identifies the psychological, social and cultural causes of behaviors that influence the spread of disease and the mechanisms that facilitate behavioral change."