Forget The ABCs

Alanna Shaikh makes sense.


It’s time to abandon Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom. This is the mantra of PEPFAR, the US-funded President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief. All PEPFAR-funded HIV education efforts must follow that formula, and include all three points. 33% of all HIV prevention funds – 20% of the PEPFAR budget – must be – according to the organization’s congressional mandate- spent on abstinence only education.

Yes, that’s right. We are requiring that 7% of our HIV budget be spent on programs that have been scientifically proven not to work. Oops! Sure, nine out of ten Americans have sex before marriage. But we expect the developing world to do better at that kind of thing, right?

PEPFAR is a good idea. More money for AIDS prevention and treatment is a good thing. Wasting limited PEPFAR funds is not. It’s time to free the PEPFAR budget from loony congressional restrictions on what can be funded. PEPFAR should be funding the efforts that will do the most good for the least money. End of discussion.

Now, the typical retort is to say: “But Uganda was the vanguard of the ABC program–and it’s HIV rates there plummeted by over 30% since the 1990s!” That may be true, but studies have shown that condom use, not abstinence, is largely to credit.

(Photo credit: Me. A picture of a street sign in Addis, Ababa Ethiopia. November 2008)