The statistics on AIDS in Africa paint a stark picture. According to UNAIDS, a United Nations umbrella group that includes five UN agencies, the World Bank and the World Health Organization, 34.3 million people in the world have died from AIDS – 3.8 million of them children under the age of 15 – and 13.2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, 12.1 million of them in Africa.

In spite of the grim statistics, there have been some notable successes in battling AIDS in the troubled continent. Through an extensive public-awareness campaign, the Ugandan government, for example, has managed to reduce the soaring HIV infection rate from 40 per cent in 1991 to just under six per cent. Compare this figure to the overall infection rate of nine per cent in sub-Saharan Africa or to Botswana, the nation hit hardest by AIDS, with an estimated 38 per cent of citizens between the ages of 15 and 49 that are infected with the virus, and the Ugandan experience is even more impressive.

The latest Ugandan awareness campaign promotes the “ABCD” of HIV – Abstain, Be faithful to your partner, use Condoms or Die. Studies are increasingly revealing the extent of the success of the ABC campaign. Along with the dramatic decline of new infections, according to the Demographic and Health Survey, 95 per cent of all Ugandans age 15 to 49 now report practising monogamy or abstinence, the average age of first sexual contact has been raised and the average number of sexual partners has been reduced.

On a previous trip to Washington, President Yoweri Museveni told drug company executives, “We made it our highest priority to convince our people to return to their traditional values of chastity and faithfulness or, failing that, to use condoms. The alternative was decimation.”

Uganda’s campaign has become the model for President George W. Bush’s $15 billion, five-year AIDS plan. On a stop to Uganda this summer during a five-day, five-nation African tour, Bush heaped praise on Museveni for his country’s work and success in the fight against AIDS, calling the ABC initiative “visionary.” During a speech at an AIDS clinic, Bush declared, “You have shown the world what is possible in terms of reducing infection rates.”

Prior to the presidential visit to Uganda, Bush has shown strong support for abstinence-based programs. Late last year, the US Agency for International Development sent a communique to its offices around the world, informing them that abstinence and fidelity programs would henceforth be part of America’s AIDS-fighting strategy in the Third World. Bush’s State of the Union Address in January called for an aggressive public health and behaviour modification strategy to tackle the moral and physical implications that AIDS poses.