Saturday, April 02, 2005

VIA NELLIE AT DANCING WITH DERRIDA, I found this Human Rights Watch report. The lives of Ugandan children are being sacrificed to the U.S. house brand of right-wing fanatical religious ideology. The HIV/AIDS education curriculum taught in Uganda's primary and secondary schools omits all mention of HIV and AIDS prevention other than abstinence until marriage, thanks to the strictures imposed on these programs by the U.S. government, which funds them. The Bush administration had all information on safer sex, condom use, and the risks of HIV transmission in marriage removed from the primary school curriculum; and added false information to the secondary school curriculum stating that condoms had microscopic pores that could allow the HIV virus to get through. High school students are now also taught that people who have sex before marriage are "deviant."

U.S. officials describe their strategy in Uganda as “ABC”—a popular acronym standing for “Abstinence, Be Faithful, use Condoms.” Some experts credit the “ABC” strategy with helping to reduce HIV prevalence in Uganda from about 15% in the early 1990s, to less than 10% today. However, Human Rights Watch’s new report documents how condoms are left out of the equation, especially for young people. A draft “Abstinence and Being Faithful (AB)” policy released in November 2004 by the Uganda AIDS Commission cautions that providing information about condoms alongside abstinence can be “confusing” to youth. Teachers told Human Rights Watch that they have been instructed by U.S. contractors not to discuss condoms in schools because the new policy is “abstinence only.” President Museveni has publicly condemned condoms as inappropriate for Ugandans, leading some AIDS educators to stop talking about them. ...

The U.S. government has already budgeted approximately U.S. $8 million this year on abstinence-only programs in Uganda as part of President George W. Bush’s global AIDS plan. The National Youth Forum, headed by Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni, a vocal proponent of abstinence-only, has received U.S. funding under the plan. The First Lady has lashed out against groups that teach young people about condoms and called for a national “virgin census” to support her abstinence agenda. The Virginia-based Children’s AIDS Fund, an organization with close ties to Janet Museveni, was recently approved for a major abstinence-only grant, despite having been deemed “not suitable for funding” by a technical panel of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The HRW report does not oppose abstinence education -- just abstinence-only education. The message that abstinence is the best and most effective way to prevent HIV infection is a positive and important one; but many Ugandan young people will have sex before marriage, and they deserve to be informed about AIDS prevention strategies. It's unconscionable that the U.S. government puts ideology above human life and responsible public health policy.

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