National Affairs Rory Leishman

National Affairs Rory Leishman

In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush announced his administration would allocate an unprecedented $15 billion to PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The enormous sum was three times greater than the comparable AIDS assistance provided by the previous Clinton administration.

One might have thought that the world’s leading anti-AIDS activists would be thrilled, but not so. In an address to the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Stephen Lewis, then serving as the UN special envoy on AIDS, denounced PEPFAR as an exercise in “incipient neo-colonialism” on the ground that the plan stipulated 33 per cent of all funding for preventing the spread of AIDS must be earmarked for abstinence and fidelity programs.

Lewis noted that PEPFAR has induced some African countries to change their AIDS preventions tactics. In an interview last year with Radio Netherlands, he deplored the decision of the Ugandan government to replace billboards advocating the greater use of condoms with signs advocating sexual abstinence outside of marriage. In Lewis’s opinion, this change in emphasis was an “absurd and idiotic” policy that has led to many additional HIV infections.

Lewis and a host of other like-minded critics of PEPFAR are dead wrong. The decision to emphasize the promotion of sexual abstinence outside of marriage as a means of combating the spread of AIDS in Africa was not a neo-colonial imposition of the United States, but an enormously successful initiative of the government of Uganda that occurred prior to adoption of the PEPFAR plan.

Edward C. Green, the director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard University, has closely examined the results. In an article published in the April edition of the ecumenical journal First Things, he noted that there is a “wealth of peer-reviewed literature” showing there has been a substantial reduction in the prevalence of HIV infections in Uganda and that the critical factor in bringing about this life-saving achievement has not been “increased condom use, but reductions in the number of sexual partners.”

The same goes for several other countries and districts in Africa and Asia. Green sums up: “Many countries that have not seen declines in HIV have seen increases in condom use, but in every country worldwide in which HIV has declined, there have been increases in levels of faithfulness and usually abstinence as well.”

Like Lewis, Dr. James D. Shelton, a senior medical scientist with the U.S. Agency for International Development, used to advocate safer sex through the use of condoms. In an article, “Confessions of a Condom Lover,” that was published in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, in December 2006, Shelton recalled: “My devotion to condoms spans nearly three decades. I have steadfastly helped my agency provide billions and helped develop new ones, including the female condom.”

In this same article, Shelton ruefully conceded that the condom-based focus on combating AIDS has failed. Citing evidence from several African countries, he contended that the key to containing the epidemic is reducing the number of sexual partners. He wrote: “Other prevention approaches also have merit, but they can be much more effective in conjunction with partner-limitation. Now, more than 20 years into HIV prevention, we have to get it right.”

That goes no less for Canada and the United States than the countries of Africa and Asia. In an article in the Journal of the British Medical Association in January, Dr. Stephen Genuis, a medical professor at the University of Alberta, stated: “In numerous large studies, concerted efforts to promote use of condoms have consistently failed to control rates of sexually transmitted infection – even in countries with advanced sex education programs such as Canada, Sweden and Switzerland. In my home province of Alberta, rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea have tripled since 1998 despite ubiquitous ‘safer sex’ education.”

Would parents, teachers and officials like Lewis please all take note: there is overwhelming scientific evidence to prove that condom-based sex education has failed. Adults and students alike should be told the truth: promoting sexual abstinence outside the bonds of marriage is a vital and proven means of curtailing the prevalence of HIV and other deadly, sexually transmitted infections.