June 30, 2006


AIDS: Condoms vs. chastity

On May 3, a group that included this writer visited the Hector Peterson School in one of the shantytowns in Cape Town, South Africa.

The school is teaching 1,619 students in 12 grades. They come from tiny homes made of corrugated steel inhabited by about 600,000 people in Cape Town. In a high percentage of those homes, teens are heads of the families because their parents have died of AIDS.

We don’t have the latest figures, but in 2002 an average of 1,370 people per day died of AIDS in South Africa. That country is only one of the sub-Saharan countries of Africa that have been ravaged by AIDS. The disease, of course, is also here in America and is spreading quickly to India and other parts of the world.

The world knows that HIV/AIDS is spread through sexual promiscuity. The way our secular culture has chosen to fight the disease is by distributing condoms. In South Africa alone, 198 million condoms were distributed in 1999. (Again, we don’t have the latest figures.)

That solution, though, hasn’t worked. The more condoms distributed, the higher the rate of HIV infections. Either they aren’t used consistently or correctly (fewer than half of those distributed in South Africa were used), or they deteriorate in quality.

There is, though, a way to stop the spread of HIV. It’s called chastity.

Naturally, the idea that teens and young adults will actually abstain from sex is pooh-poohed by “sophisticated” people. Nevertheless, they are. The possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS is a powerful incentive to refrain from sex.

The Economist reported in its June 3 issue that figures from UNAIDS show that the proportion of people having sex before they reached the age of 15 had dropped in eight of the 11 African countries studied—parts of Africa where prevention methods hadn’t worked before.

“Whisper it softly in the halls of activism,” the article stated, but abstinence before marriage and fidelity within it may actually be working. “In some countries at least, young people are becoming less promiscuous. The age of first intercourse is rising, and the number of sexual partners taken each year is falling.”

That’s the approach taken by PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. We believe it’s the correct approach.

An article in the June issue of Crisis by Sue Ellin Browder reports on a successful campaign against HIV/AIDS in Uganda. It used an ABC approach: “Abstain, Be faithful, or for those who refuse to do either, use Condoms.”

Using that program, rates of 13- to 16-year-olds having sex in one district of Uganda plummeted from nearly 60 percent in 1994 to less than 5 percent in 2001. Less than 10 percent of unmarried Ugandan women reported multiple partners. And national HIV infection rates fell between 1992 and 2002 from 21 percent to 6 percent.

Rand L. Stoneburner and Daniel Low-Beer of Cambridge University observed in Science magazine, “Uganda has shown a 70 percent decline in HIV prevalence since the early 1990s, linked to a 60 percent reduction in casual sex.”

Browder wrote that Dr. Edward C. Green, a research scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health, reported in the Journal of Medicine and the Person that the ABC approach is also working in other African nations. In Kenya, he wrote, the response to AIDS before 1999 was supplying and promoting condoms.

After the ABC approach was introduced that year, “Between 1998 and 2003 among never-married people ages 15 to 24, the number of individuals abstaining from sex rose from 44 percent to 59 percent among men and from 68 percent to 79 percent among women. The number of women with multiple partners dropped from 4 percent to 2 percent, while the number among men dropped from 30 percent to 17 percent. Meanwhile, the overall prevalence of HIV in adults went from 10 percent to 6.7 percent.”

As Browder wrote in her article in Crisis: “The only surefire way to prevent AIDS in general-population epidemics is to urge people to abstain or be faithful to their spouses; condoms should be offered only as a last resort to those unwilling to do A or B. That’s not religion, but rather a verified, recent, scientific finding.”

— John F. Fink


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