UN AIDS Envoy Can't Stomach Abstinence

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
13 October 2005
Vol. 7 / No. 40
Reproduced with Permission

Stephen Lewis, the United Nations' special envoy to Africa for HIV/AIDS, has little good to say about the Bush Administration's efforts there. That the United States is spending more money than any other nation on stopping the spread of AIDS in Africa counts for little. He is upset with the U.S. emphasis on abstinence, which he accuses of causing a condom shortage in Uganda.

Now Uganda happens to be the only sub-Saharan African country that has achieved a large reduction in her HIV prevalence rate. Its adult HIV infection rate has dropped from 18% to 5-7%. No other nation in the world has achieved such success. Most sub-Saharan African nations, following the pro-condoms model, continue to suffer from rising HIV infection rates. But then, other African nations do not have leaders like Ugandan President Museveni and his wife. This dynamic duo has consistently promoted an abstinence-first model that has successfully changed Ugandan culture. Ugandan surveys show a reduction in premarital sexual activity among Ugandan youth and a reduction in extramarital acitivty among adults. The result: less AIDS.

This is, in Lewis's worldview, all wrong. He complains that the Bush Administration's shift of funding from condoms to abstinence promotion under its PEPFAR program has led to a shortage of the prophylactics in Uganda. "There is no doubt in my mind that the condom crisis in Uganda is being driven by PEPFAR," said Lewis. "To impose a dogma-driven policy that is fundamentally flawed is doing damage to Africa."

This is a bizarre inversion of the truth, and threatens to do grievous harm to the one HIV/AIDS prevention approach that has actually worked.

Uganda's health minister, Jim Muhwezi, denies that there is any shortage of condoms in his country. "It is not true that there is a condom shortage," he said. "There seems to be a coordinated smear campaign by those who do not want to use any other alternative simultaneously with condoms against AIDS." In fact, Uganda officially uses the ABC approach: Abstinence before marriage, be faithful in marriage, and use condoms if you don't do one or two.

But this isn't good enough for UN officials, whose love affair with condoms knows no bounds, and who are also angry with America for funding her own AIDS initiative in Africa instead of giving the money to them.

"Alas, from Stephen Lewis's point of view, the U.S. is deplorably 'unilateralist' and spends its billions of AIDS dollars directly in Africa rather than sluicing them through the UN, where now that the Oil-for-Fraud program is no longer 'needed,' many bureaucrats are itching to bring their humanitarian expertise and efficiency to bear on another great slab of cash," wrote Mark Steyn in the Canadian Western Standard, Oct. 3. "Once the usual UN administration fee had been deducted from Bush's pitifully inadequate $15 billion, there could easily have been enough left over to buy, oh, twenty thousand bucks' worth of second-hand condoms from a rubber factory co-owned by a nephew of Kofi Annan and a cousin of Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Instead, the U.S. decided to spend the cash itself."

Why not? The UN's approach has failed, and its own statistics show it. HIV rates keep rising, to over 30% in some countries. Two decades of pornographic sex education and massive shipments of condoms have sent millions of young Africans to an early grave.

But who on the Left cares about the facts? The UK Guardian sneers at Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni's abstinence campaign, ominously hinting that it is driven by her Christian beliefs. It scorns the poster campaigns that Mrs. Museveni has backed. "In one poster campaign, signed by the office of the first lady, the slogan alongside the picture of a smiling young woman says: 'She's saving herself for marriage -- how about you?'" said the paper.

It is this sort of thing that the UN and left-wing newspapers fear that Bush is going to promote in Africa.

Lewis is no new kid on the block shooting his mouth off. A former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, he is a long-time member of the establishment. His wife, Michele Landsberg, is a pro-abortion feminist activist and former columnist for the Toronto Star.

In August, the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria pulled all funding from Uganda's highly successful AIDS prevention program, alleging financial irregularities.

Apparently, achieving results isn't good enough for international grandees. It's death by condom or nothing. But we think the Bush Administration will stay the course.