I got this email yesterday from PBS’ Frontline World Outreach who are trying to bring attention to the impact of abstinence only education in Uganda.
Producer Danielle Anastasion reports that some Ugandan AIDS programs are no longer promoting condom use for fear of losing their funding. The United States is the single largest donor to AIDS prevention in Uganda and much of the aid is dispensed through religious-based groups. However, a number of recent studies show rates of new AIDS cases going up since the abstinence-only approach began, and recently the US House of Representatives passed an amendment seeking to waive abstinence restrictions on US AIDS prevention funding for 2008.
When I first started grad school, people talked of the way Uganda was dealing with its HIV/AIDS epidemic with much reverence. It was a flashing beacon of hope for Africa. At the time, it was one of the few countries on the continent that was seeing a decline in the number of cases. As reported in the Frontline video, a decade ago, 15% of all adults were HIV positive. That number had dropped to under 6% by 2003.
Uganda had confronted the realities of the epidemic earlier than many nations in the region and had done so, it appeared, with a greater amount of pragmatism. Rather than bow to pressure from groups who opposed comprehensive STD education, as Kenya’s former President Daniel Arap Moi had done on multiple occasions, they adopted the ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom) program. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni spoke openly about safe sex and AIDS. Many believe that this openness combined with the health policies of the administration were the secret to their success.
Others, however, argue over how large of an impact political will and the ABC program had. Some have speculated that the reduction in incidence was the disease epidemic just following its natural course as the population of people living with HIV/AIDS started to die off. The recent increase in AIDS cases with switch over to the U.S. sanctioned abstinence-only education, however, strongly suggests that the previous policies were in fact responsible for the improvement in health in the population.
Watch the Frontline video online: