"Praise God, I have been saved!" says Isaac Ichila, 24, with a young crowd hanging on every word. "We are fighting the enemy of humanity which is HIV/Aids. It is killing us. I was a drunkard and I slept with 17 women before university. So I took the pledge to abstain from sex and have kept my promise to God. I am physically and psychologically pure."
Where, my friends, do you imagine this comes from? Could it be, perhaps, the American Bible Belt, where such religious fervor is rampant? No, friends, it is Uganda. Now, Uganda is an interesting country. As many of you know, Africa is currently being swept by something of an HIV/AIDS epidemic, with and estimated 24.5 million people living with the disease at the end of 2005. An estimated 2 million died last yeah, and there were approximately 2.7 millionmore infections.
Now, Uganda is somewhat different. It is, by all accounts, a success story. In the early 1990s, about 15% of the adult population was living with HIV/AIDS, a decade later, in 2001, the figure was only 5% and, in 2003, it was at 4.3%. This is a good thing. Uganda is one of the very few African nations where rates of HIV infection have actually decreased.
How has this happened? Well, it's very simple. The Government has educated the people. It gave the Ugandan people three options:
2. Be Faithful
3. Use a condom
Now, I like this. If you don't have the willpower to abstinant or faithful (or if you just don't want to), use a condom, that's fine. The Government will even teach you how to. You see, lack of proper education leads to misuse of condoms, or even their absence altogether, and this, needless to say is very dangerous.
Enter the United States of America.
The United States, bless them, have pledged $15billion over five years to help stop HIV/AIDS. Good, say I, more money is good, thank you very much President Bush. In fact, most of the money ($129.9million this year alone) is going to Uganda. Thank you again, Mr. Bush, good show. Or not.
You see, on the surface this looks good, and if you go the the website of the "Office ofthe U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator" (http://www.state.gov/s/gac/
) it certainly looks as though the US is doing a very good job. Then the Christian Right-wing got involved.
You see, the Christian Right in America believe that abstinance is the way to stop teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS etc. Fair enough, they're entitled to their opinion. However, their opinion then proceeds to get rather dangerous. You see, they don't just believe that abstinance is good, they believe that it's the only way and that condoms and teaching anything but abstinance in sex education classes is bad because it puts sex into the minds of teenagers. I'm going to let that sink in Ladies and Gentlemen. Now, I think that it's pretty fair to say that sex is going to be in a teenager's mind whatever you teach them, but this is supposed to be about AIDS and Africa, so I'll leave abstinance itself for another day.
Now, in order to keep the Christian Right happy (they are a large voting block, and the actions of the US Government are always dictated by vting blocks and never by morality on its own), the AIDS aid comes with conditions. Namely, one third of all prevention money must go to "abstinance only" programs (if you want the figures, that $10million of Uganda's share).
Now, these programs are dangerous, and here why: They lie. Yes ladies and Gentlemen, they lie. Allow me to take a quote from Mr. Simon Peter Onaba, he's 24 and a student in Uganda (and one of the abstinance lot): "Remember, condoms don't prevent AIDS. They have a high failure rate".
Now, I read that and thought "Hum... that's not what I remember beign taught. Better look it up and make sure I have the facts". And facts, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what this website is all about. So here they are:
The failure rate of correctly used condoms is about 3%. 3%, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not high. In fact, it is very low (as if you doubted). I say correctly used condoms because, of course, if you misuse them the failure rate is somewhat higher (about 15%, as it happens). So, how do people learn to use condoms correctly? They are taught, plain and simple.
Now, with the Americans insisting that more money goes to abstinence and the unofficial but very real gagging of people who talk about condoms (more on that in a few lines), means that fewer and fewer people learn about condoms. This leads to more and more cases of both unwanted pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
So, the unofficial gagging I mentioned. I'll take another quote if I may, this tiem from Ugandan radio producer Hassan Sekajoolo, "We had no choice. The American donors came and said 'Our way is abstinence and Be faithful, full stop.'". Similar things have happened all over the country. A scheme to teach all Ugandan children about AIDS (initially bankrolled by the US) was removed when it made references to condoms. A popular teenage magazine was burned after it referred to condoms.
So, what we see here is that abstinence is being forced upon Uganda and, as a result, children are not learning about condoms and so, if they use them (which a lot of them almost certainly will), many more will use them incorrectly and this, as we all know, can be disasterous.
Now, I wouldn't have a problem if abstinence worked 100%, or even 95% of the time. But the fact is it doesn't and this is for two reasons:
1. Many people simply don't want to abstain.
2. Humans are weak.
Yes, we are. Now some of us might be able to abstain until marriage, but there will be those that can't. If, in the case of 1., we don't want to abstain, then we need to be educated about how to have safe sex, especially if we're trying to prevent AIDS. And if we are only taught abstience, then we're in a bit of trouble.
However, if we fall into catagory 2, it's doubly dangerous. Firstly because of what I've just mentioned but also becaus the person will realise that they have succumbed to a weakness and be ashamed. Now, there is no great shame in having sex, but if people believe that ther is, then they will be unwilling to admit to what they've done and they won't get themselves checked out to make sure that they haven't contracted anything, which is very, very dangerous, as I'm sure you are all aware.
So, in an effort to combat the untruths told by the Christian Right and in order to, hopefully, somehow, reach Africa, I print this.
This is the truth.
Thank you and Good Luck.