This past weekend, the first Youth AIDS Day brought swarms of students, many from this campus, to Capitol Hill to rally in support of funding for AIDS research, treatment and education. Although spreading awareness amongst youth about the threat of AIDS and lobbying for more funding to treat infectious diseases are noble efforts, I am troubled by the specific methods that these marchers endorse.
In particular, Student Global AIDS Campaign advocates ending abstinence-only AIDS prevention programs and promoting the use and distribution of male and female condoms and other forms of contraception – a proposition not only irresponsible, but dangerous.
AIDS prevention groups today are enamored of the mythical panacea of prophylactics, undoubtedly propagated by condom companies far more interested in profit than public welfare. While condoms can break, slip, leak as well as be used inconsistently, abstinence and monogamous relationships ensure a 100 percent effective way to combat the AIDS pandemic.
The indiscriminate gratification of sexual impulses has consequences. Instead of focusing on changing risky behavior, AIDS prevention groups have turned to the condom as the only “credible” cure-all.
Not only do they endorse the ideology of the notorious 1960s sexual revolution, but they also labor to export this noxious mindset to African countries whose cultures had not experienced this particular Western conception of promiscuity. The initiatives of groups such as the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project and their “condoms everywhere campaign” fail to recognize a wealth of research that points to behavioral change as the most effective way to combat sexually transmitted diseases around the globe.
Consider Uganda, an illuminating case study in the decrease of HIV infection rates. Researchers Rand Stoneburner and Daniel Low-Beer showed that very few people used condoms or had HIV tests in the early 1990s when HIV rates were falling. The focus was shifted instead to fidelity, where families, neighborhoods and local networks encouraged fewer sexual partners, as the Ugandan inistry of Health urged the populace to “Love Carefully,”Love Faithfully” and practice “Zero Grazing.”
Edward C. Green, a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health (and a self-described liberal Democrat), found that basic behavioral changes in Uganda between 1987 and 1995, that is, before Western interference emphasizing condoms arrived, kept HIV prevalence from rising in the region. Furthermore, Green discovered that increasing levels of condom use in Africa did not lead to less HIV prevalence.
Green is not alone in such findings. Helen Epstein, a research scholar at the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, found reduction in promiscuous sexual behavior to be the common thread between periods of falling HIV-infection rates in Uganda, Thailand and the United States.
She further discovered that when churches promoted faithfulness in Zambia and northern Tanzania, HIV rates declined, whereas in regions where condom use was emphasized, including Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, HIV rates remained stubbornly high.
In short, condoms do not offer a complete or desirable solution to the AIDS crisis. Delayed sexual debut, partner reduction and fidelity are the proven methods of reducing HIV transmission.
Why should we advocate for condoms, testing and treatment, all of which tacitly condone – if not promote – promiscuous behavior? We must make sure that we are truly seeking a long-term solution to the global AIDS program, not a myopic program endorsed by condom producers and biased groups like the oft-cited Alan Guttmacher Institute.
Don’t be misled by the manufacturers of condoms and purveyors of false hope in a prophylactic panacea. The reluctance of AIDS prevention groups today to admit the shortcomings of the condom orthodoxy has already come at too great a cost of human life, and indeed threatens to take many more.