America’s Abstinence Strategy Fails to Prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa

May 06, 2016 at 11:11 am | News

Charles Ayitey

Charles Ayitey | Contributor

May 06, 2016 at 11:11 am | News

Abstinence-only posters targeting sub-Saharan Africa have not been very effective, researchers say. (Photo: furman.edu blog)

During a span of 15 years, the United States government wasted over $1.4 billion on failed attempts to promote abstinence before marriage as a way of preventing the spread of HIV in 14 sub-Saharan countries, independent health research company Health Affairs reveals in its recent article.

According to the report, abstinence and faithfulness programs and activities funded by the U.S. are ineffective at modifying sexual behaviors. In addition, the allocation of resources and strategic efforts to these programs may be delivered at the expense of other, potentially more effective prevention services such as programs to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, condom promotion, adult male circumcision, injection and blood safety education or pill-based prevention.

The 2003 U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)  had injected millions of dollars into the said project; a third of PEPFAR’s prevention budget was spent on telling people to refrain from sex before marriage – an unrealistic move considering Africa’s traditional setting for early marriages and betrothals.

Meanwhile, PEPFAR has responded to these claims by citing scientific and academic evidence in favor of prevention interventions that convinced government officials to take up the project:

“Current prevention science demonstrates that a combination package of evidence-based behavioral, biomedical and structural prevention interventions tailored to the populations and geographic areas with the greatest burden is most effective in addressing the epidemic.”

So then what are the best ways by which the spread of HIV/AIDS in Sub-Sahara Africa can be averted? Could traditional means of advocating against sex before marriage work are could there be some very scientific and practical means of preventing the disease?

In its 2014 medical report on HIV prevention, the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior postulated that focusing on targeting “hot zones” – areas in Africa where the risk of HIV infection is much higher than national averages – could be the best strategy. Citing the case in South Africa where 17 percent of the country’s population have HIV, the UCLA researchers predict that such an approach can avert 40 percent more HIV infections.

Over 25.8 million in sub-Saharan Africa live with HIV, thus making up 70 percent of the global total; 54 percent are documented to be receiving treatment. So far, South Africa continues to have the highest rate of infections among African countries.

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