NIH Spends $178,000 to Study Why Prostitutes in Thailand
The National Institutes of Health is funding a study to investigate the personal and cultural pressures on female and transgender prostitutes in Thailand, a study that began on April 15, Tax Day.
By Joseph Abrams
The National Institutes of Health are spending $178,000 to better understand why drug-abusing prostitutes in Thailand are at greater risk for HIV infection. (Reuters)
The federal government is spending $178,000 to better understand why drug-abusing prostitutes in Thailand are at greater risk for HIV infection, an endeavor taxpayer watchdogs are calling a huge waste of American taxpayers' money.
The National Institutes of Health study, "Substance Use and HIV Risk among Thai Women," is looking at the interplay of personal and cultural factors that put Thai prostitutes at special risk.
But women aren't its only target. The two-year project, made possible by a grant from the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse, is also studying kathoey, the transgender prostitutes who are widely accepted in Thailand because of the "karmic idea in Buddhism," and who have especially high HIV infection rates, according to the study's abstract.
Researchers plan to "interview" (LMFAO!) 60 sex workers -- 36 women and 24 kathoey -- to understand the factors that make the prostitutes susceptible to HIV, including economic pressure, sex-change operations, their heavy use of drugs and a Buddhist fatalism that keeps them feeling resigned to their fate.
The NIH funds many studies that focus on HIV risk and prevention in hopes that it can lay the vital groundwork for developing treatment and intervention plans to thwart the deadly AIDS virus.
But government watchdogs are having a hard time understanding why American tax dollars should go to study the sexual habits of prostitutes halfway around the world.
"This really is a complete waste of money and should not be funded by the taxpayer," said David Williams, vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, which tracks wasteful spending in the federal budget.
Williams lauded the NIH for funding life-saving research in many areas, but he said this study goes way beyond the pale. The project began April 15 -- Tax Day in the U.S. -- which the government waste watcher found especially galling.
"It really boggles the mind to think that this is what NIH is studying," Williams told FOXNews.com.
Attempts to reach the study's director by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful, and the NIH did not respond to requests for comment.
Among the specific aims of the study are to "understand substance use and HIV risk behaviors among female and kathoey sex workers" and to help pave the way for new HIV prevention studies in Thailand, a nation of 66 million that has a relatively high rate of HIV infection. The United Nations estimates that nearly 1 percent of Thailand's population is infected with the virus -- nearly three times the rate in the U.S.
The new program is one of a slew of efforts by the NIH to combat the virus, which has been fast spreading in East Asia, where it is passed on primarily through unprotected sex.
The NIH spends $29 billion each year to help fund thousands of health studies, including many overseas initiatives. Among those projects are a $400,000 study being conducted in bars in Buenos Aires to find out why gay men engage in risky sexual behavior while drunk, and a $2.6 million study dedicated to teaching prostitutes in China to drink less while having sex on the job.
While some active NIH projects -- such as studies of suicide patterns among young men and women in China -- have a clearer relevance for communities living in the U.S., the utility of this study for U.S. citizens is not as clear-cut.
The abstract indicates that it is intended to create prevention models specifically tailored to the "sociocultural factors specific to female and kathoey sex workers" in Thailand.
"We don't have an infinite number of tax dollars to work with here, and the ones that we do pay should go to benefit the research in this country," said Williams, who faulted the government for piling on programs during an economic crisis.
"The first thing to really look at is how it is going to directly impact the citizens of this country, because we are the ones paying for this research."
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