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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Abstinence war zone

Here's the article, by Brian Harradine, and here's the warzone. Which side gets angry and loud? The anti-abstinence camp, of course! Why? I'm not really sure. I think it's mostly based on contempt for anything that smells of faith or religion. How much contempt? Try these:
 "If your faith's most celebrated woman never actually gets laid... steer clear about comments on sex education!"
 "We have to be careful because many religions in the past have used sexual abstinence as a tool of power over people. The result was institutionalised paedophilia and many with screwed up sexuality."
Don't ask me where the contempt comes from. I really don't know. One of the commentators referred to a Washington Post article, "Uganda's AIDS Decline Attributed to Deaths" [1]. It cites "findings" that contradict the success stories of the Ugandan ABC program (Abstinence, Being faithful to your spouse, and Condoms only in high risk situations). This program was previously the centeriece for abstinence as a viable tactic against AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. However, the so-called "findings" in the Washington Post article have yet to be scrutinized [1], have yet to be published [1], and are based on a study that is not yet over [2]. On the other hand, I found this Citizen Magazine article [3] that cites a Harvard report, entitled "What Happened in Uganda?" [4], by Dr. Edward C. Green et al. This report, submitted to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), appears to be the primary basis for lauding abstinence tactics. However, the report was allegedly shelved as soon as it was submitted. The Citizen report also alleges possible political maneuvers to publicize instead a report by Dr. Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates. According to Citizen, Dr. Kirby's report instead promotes condom use and claims that there is no evidence to support abstinence. I didn't find any ETR publication listed in their website pertaining to AIDS in Africa. There are a number of publications by Dr. Green available online. Looking at "What Happened in Uganda?" [4], it looks to me from reading just page 2 that the rate of new HIV infection (seroincidence) "fell from 7.6 per thousand per year in 1990 to 3.2 per thou-sand per year by 1998." The Washington Post article cites mortality as the cause for the drop in HIV infections in Uganda, but Dr. Green's report also maintains that "Uganda’s falling HIV prevalence is likely not due merely to measurement bias or a “natural die-off syndrome,” but rather mainly to a number of behavioral changes that have been identified in several surveys and qualitative studies." Dr. Green's report also makes the following conclusions:
  • Behavior change communication (BCC) reached both general populations and key target groups.
  • "Condom social marketing has played a key but evidently not the major role."
  • "The most important determinant of the reduction in HIV incidence in Uganda appears to be a decrease in multiple sexual partnerships and networks."
  • "the experience there and in other countries that have achieved some success suggests that a comprehensive behavior change-based strategy, ideally involving high level political commitment and a diverse spectrum of community-based participation, may be the most effective prevention approach."
Those are serious published findings that can't be ignored. Reference:
  1. Uganda's AIDS Decline Attributed to Deaths, David Brown, Washington Post, February 24, 2005, Page A02.
  2. STD Control and AIDS Prevention in Uganda, Key Researchers: Maria Wawer and Lynn Paxton, The Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, Columbia University, Mailman School of Health.
  3. Special Investigation: Burying the Truth, Candi Cushman, Citizen Magazine.
  4. Green, E.C., V. Nantulya, R. Stoneburner, J. Stover, (Hogle, J. editor), What Hapened in Uganda? Declining HIV Prevalence, Behavior Change and the National Response. USAID/Washington and The Synergy Project, TvT Associates, Washington, D.C. September 2002.

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