Infection preventiontists may have been understandably concerned and somewhat confused about a recently reported “word ban” at the CDC that apparently had more to do with politics than clinical science.
In a response to questions after some medical groups were highly critical of a reported word ban at the CDC, Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, director of the agency, issued a statement Dec. 20, 2017, to Hospital Infection Control & Prevention:
“There are no banned, prohibited, or forbidden words at the CDC — period. I want to emphasize to anyone who may believe otherwise that we continue to encourage open dialogue about all of the important public health work we do. CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data that benefits all Americans — and we will continue to do so. I understand that confusion arose from a staff-level discussion at a routine meeting about how to present CDC’s budget. It was never intended as overall guidance for how we describe and conduct CDC’s work.”
Reports of censorship at the CDC prompted a strong reaction by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and other medical groups.“We are deeply concerned about reports that budget documents submitted to Congress from the CDC may be censored for certain terms that include ‘science-’ and ‘evidence-based,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘entitlement,’ ‘vulnerable,’ and ‘fetus,’” said a statement issued by the IDSA, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
“We find this unacceptable and disturbing. We strongly urge elected officials to prohibit any form of censorship that interferes with accurate communications by CDC, other Department of Health and Human Services agencies, and other federal agencies.”
An objective and neutral foundation of medical language is essential to establish patient trust in the healthcare system, IDSA noted.
“Suppression of language in budget documents suggests further intent — thwarting a federal agency from requesting funding for public health initiatives based on sound science, yet controversial in the political arena,” the medical groups stated. “When ideology, fear, and ignorance dominate discourse in the public health arena, consequences are deadly. More than three decades ago when HIV first appeared in the U.S., the federal government’s unwillingness to acknowledge the epidemic and to allocate resources allowed the HIV epidemic to expand further and faster. These early, federal inactions were not based on science, but rather grounded in ideology and politics. Timely intervention could have saved many thousands of lives.”