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Preventing Abstinence Promotes AIDS
Twisted theocrats here and in Uganda have succeeded in reducing condom availability -- with fatal results, says a Kaiser Foundation commentary:

Uganda became Africa's leader in reducing the spread of HIV by promoting abstinence, faithfulness and consistent condom use, but now this "balanced approach is tilting, and Ugandans will die as a result," a New York Times editorial says (New York Times, 9/4). The Ugandan and U.S. governments over the past couple of years have placed an increasing interest in promoting abstinence and fidelity in marriage, with condoms being distributed only to people who cannot manage either prevention tactic. U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis and other AIDS advocates last week said the Bush administration's policy of emphasizing abstinence-only prevention programs and cutting federal funding for condoms have contributed to an alleged condom shortage in Uganda and undermined the country's HIV/AIDS fight. Lewis said in a teleconference sponsored by health and human rights groups that "there is no question that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven and exacerbated by [the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief] and by the extreme policies the administration in the United States is now pursuing" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/30). The shift in policy from promoting condom use to abstinence-only education "threatens to undermine the country's success in bringing AIDS into the open," the editorial says. If those who use condoms "are branded as immoral," it will "drive the epidemic back underground," the editorial adds, concluding, "No one knows better than the Ugandans that lives are saved when AIDS is treated as a public health challenge, not a moral crusade" (New York Times, 9/4).

People in Uganda are now desperate for condoms:

Reports indicate that in some areas, including those with large numbers of internally displaced persons, people desperate to prevent HIV infection have begun using garbage bags as condom substitutes.

Similar trends are underway in a number of other countries, including Zambia, where reduced supplies of condoms and shifts in funding of prevention programmes are leaving millions at risk, and Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania, where U.S. funding is indirectly supporting the resurgence of fundamentalist religious movements and undermining effective HIV prevention, CHANGE says.

In a related development, right-wing Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, demanded that the United States stop financing a Central American HIV-AIDS prevention programme, run by Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit group.

In a letter to Pres. Bush, Coburn -- a medical doctor -- complained about PSI's "Noches Vives" and other programmes. Noches means nights; Vives is a brand of condoms.

Because most prostitutes in poor countries don't show up at local clinics to ask for condoms, PSI sponsors Noches Vives, sending aid workers to bars, brothels and other places where prostitutes congregate. They go from table to table, handing out condoms, sometimes using bananas as props, showing people how to use them.

Coburn wrote that PSI's funding is up for renewal, and PSI has applied for tens of millions more to continue the project, adding, "There is something seriously askew at USAID when the agency's response to a dehumanising and abusive practice that exploits women and young girls is parties and games."

"It's a simple activity for largely illiterate people," said Michael Holscher, regional executive director for PSI. "We can't just stand up in a bar and say, 'AIDS will kill you.' With an interactive activity, we can hold their attention, sometimes for as long as an hour."

Shortly after Coburn's letter, USAID cut off money for the programme.

Rev. Tim Simpson of the newly-formed Christian Alliance, told IPS, "This is an absolutely tragic situation that is being compounded by the extremist ethics of Christian fundamentalists, who place sexual purity ahead of saving lives."

"The scourge of HIV/AIDS ought not be the occasion for trotting out the right wing's failed attempts at abstinence education," he said. "They don't seem to be nearly as concerned about Africans dying as they are about keeping Africans from having sex outside of marriage."

"But one infected prostitute can destroy the lives of hundreds of people in a very short period of time, so there is no question that the need is acute. It is time that the U.S. government stops listening to groups like Focus on the Family and instead starts focusing on reality," Simpson added.

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Posted by aalkon at September 15, 2005 8:30 AM

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This article sounds like utter crapola. Even under the Clinton regime when condoms were handed out freely even in the oval office, rates of AIDS infections were through the roof in Africa. Ignorance was widespread. There were stories about African men raping virgin girls thinking that it would somehow cure them of AIDS. So I doubt the Africans suddenly got all religious about condom use to the extent that they've become so desperate that they are wrapping their tools with garbage bags.

Furthermore, the U.S. is not the only manufacturer of condoms in the free world. While we're busy promoting democracy throughout the world, why can't the French distribute condoms?

Finally, those so-called prostitutes that the article mentions are probably more like sex slaves. I don't want my tax dollars to be spent on the further subjugation of women. We're not talking about escorts or even street walkers in the U.S. where women at least have some choices and avenues to escape prostitution if that is their wish. These African women are not happy hookers. They are for the most part slaves.

Posted by: nash at September 15, 2005 5:30 AM

So if these women can't get condoms, they'll be set free?

Your rationale is absurd, and your disregard is appalling.

Africa is being decimated by AIDS right now. It's creating extreme poverty, collapsing economies, and promoting the very kind of conditions that lead to sex slavery, militias, and civil wars. If you don't think that's going to impact the rest of the world, you're living in a bubble.

Yes, ignorance is the problem, but keeping people ignorant (and without a means to prevent the spread of the disease) will only exacerbate the problem. Your tax dollars are being spent regardless. Wouldn't you rather have them being spent on something that works and saves lives?

Posted by: deja pseu at September 15, 2005 6:04 AM

I suppose that the US is totally, completely responsible for these people's plight?

While you are wishing, let us wish for Mr. Bush to send troops over there to install a government with its people, not kleptomania, on its mind. Hey, it's every bit as humanitarian as setting up Iraq for Constitutional deliberations, right?

Posted by: Radwaste at September 15, 2005 4:51 PM

Deja pseu, how can you accuse me of disregard when you are saying that giving sex slaves condoms ameliorates their condition?

Posted by: nash at September 15, 2005 6:19 PM

Not giving prostitutes condoms is an exceptionally stupid, short-sighted practice that has dire public health consequences.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 15, 2005 10:15 PM

"Here's your condom, bitch. Now quit whining for your mommy and go make me some money!" You've never been much of a child advocate.

Posted by: nash at September 16, 2005 1:04 PM

Back in the day, Prager used to say that liberals are obsessed with things (like guns) while conservatives were obsessed with standards (like morality). This issue is a pretty good example.

Don't worry about pollution, don't worry about wars: AIDS in Africa will be the quietus of our lifetime, and there's not much we can do about it. The problem is not that a pallet of Trojans is stuck on the dock in San Pedro because Oklahomans are squeamish. The problem is the behavior of Africans. Never forget what we're up against:

Posted by: Crid at September 17, 2005 12:36 PM

I still fail to understand our administration. People fuck! They just do. Teenagers are becoming known for it. But you want to give them rings for their fingers and not their privates cause why? I think Utah is the only state with the sense to legalize prostitution and make protection and STD testing a condition. And this is the home of the mormons!
Meanwhile, if these women are 'sex slaves' at least don't make them comfort women! At least give them protection against pregnancy and STDs if that's the only protection we're willing to consider.
And that "The problem is the behavior of Africans" comment is a racist, ignorant, and fucking stupid statement. Where do you think they got the AIDS from? It's not like they suddenly became more promiscuous; AIDS was brought by 'visitors' to the country. It spread because they had no protection; it's not that they didn't need it before, but before all they needed it for was to prevent pregnancy. Now without it, people and children are just dying. And we like to sit here and pretend like a free concert series in the US is going to do a damn thing to help AIDS victims?
Abstinence or not, how about providing protection for those who are sexually active who ask for it.

Posted by: Lia at September 21, 2005 11:02 PM

Uh, I think you mean Nevada. And I believe it's thought that AIDs came from monkeys. No matter where it came from, it's evil to work against people protecting themselves.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 21, 2005 11:09 PM

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