Promote abstinence instead of condoms, encourages a Harvard study. In some African countries where sexual purity was widely advertised, the pandemic of AIDS has significantly decreased.
The finding, published in the most recent issue of Science Magazine, runs counter to the popular belief that only the vast distribution of condoms can tame AIDS. Prepared by the Harvard School of Public Health, the study has pointed out that in the east African country of Uganda where missionaries and lay organizations have promoted abstinence the number of people having multiple partners has dropped by half. At the opposite pole are Southern African states. There, AIDS victims still constitute over 10 percent of populations despite free condoms available at many points.
It is important to change the current foreign aid programs that play down abstinence. “We need a fairly dramatic shift in priorities, not just a minor tweaking,” Dr. Daniel Halperin, who headed the study, told the Catholic World News. So far, most organizations such as the United Nations and World Health Organization hardly ever try to change customs in some African and Asian countries, where a large number of partners is often regarded as a sign of popularity. Many also fear the stigma of racism. “HIV is largely a sexually transmitted infection, so there must be something different about sex in Africa. Yet you can’t say that without appearing to be racist,” said a British epidemiologist, Elisabeth Pisani.
One of the few exceptions is President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Much criticized by United Nations agendas, the $15 billion worth American program has provided almost two million HIV positive people from Africa and Asia with antiretroviral treatment that would otherwise be beyond their reach. One of the requirements which the plan imposes on the recipient states is that one third of the money will be spent on programs promoting abstinence. But despite the lambasting from liberal circles, PEPFAR has been surprisingly successful. “In prevention, we were able to bring down the HIV prevalence [rate] from 18 percent to the current six-point-five percent,” said Dr. Alex Coutinho who chairs PEPFAR in Uganda.
Abstinence is also widely supported by the Catholic Church. The Vatican not only finds sexual chastity morally right, but also more effective in fighting AIDS than contraception. For example, in Botswana where private organizations spent over $14 million on condoms last year, the number of HIV infected people rises steadily, now reaching almost 30 percent of the adult population. On the other hand, in Zimbabwe, where money was invested on promoting abstinence, the rate of HIV among young men and women has dropped by over 20 percent.
But the problem of sexual behavior is not only limited to Africa or Asia. Church authorities alarm that a growing number of young people in developed regions, be it the United States or the European Union, catches the lethal disease. According to the data provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the 448,000 Americans with HIV have not yet reached their forty-fourth birthday. Despite broad availability of various types of contraception and sexual education at most schools, teenagers fall easy prey for AIDS.
No one denies the usefulness of condoms. But they also provide a mistaken sense of security whereas there is no guarantee that any kind of contraception will save people from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Abstinence can.