The administration of US President George Bush has been accused of undermining the global fight against Aids. The US is investing billions of dollars in Aids-prevention campaigns in countries with a high prevalence, particularly in Africa. But a report by the US Congressional Research Office says the money is only being spent on programmes which teach abstinence and fidelity.
Radio Netherlands’ Pieternel Gruppen spoke to Joe Amon, head of the Aids programme for Human Rights Watch who is also critical of Washington’s anti-Aids campaign:
RN: Why are you critical of this campaign?
Joe Amon: Well the main criticism is that we know ‘abstinence only’ approaches don’t work. There’s no research that shows that they’re effective at protecting people from becoming infected with HIV. And we know that comprehensive approaches that teach abstinence as well as fidelity, and the correct and appropriate use of condoms are effective.
RN: So maybe some projects have been damaged by this strategy?
Joe Amon: Undoubtedly. The biggest fear that I have and what I’ve seen in the field is that these projects aren’t only promoting abstinence, but they’re increasing the stigma and they’re suggesting that people who become infected, become infected due to their own fault and their own failure to be abstinent or to be faithful. In fact, we know that sexual violence is occurring and people are becoming infected through rape. We know that people are becoming infected because their partners are unfaithful and that women don’t have the power to negotiate condom-use and really protect themselves.
RN: Uganda is known for its successful reduction of the spread of HIV/Aids, how is it today?
Joe Amon: The prevalence rate has been flat or stagnant for about the last five years, but I think in general one of the biggest problems with the US approach is that it’s been modelled on a very simplistic vision of what worked in Uganda. What worked in Uganda was a very grassroots community-led response that was comprehensive and that emphasised open and honest discussion about Aids. And what’s been put in its place is something that is very, very different: ideologically driven, emphasising abstinence and taking a different approach to what we know worked in Uganda.
RN: How big a player is the US in the fight against Aids?
Joe Amon: The US is undoubtedly one of the largest players in the fight and the amount of money the US has dedicated to Aids has increased substantially.
RN: What do you hope will happen now researchers have criticised this approach?
Joe Amon: The law that authorises the Aids approach is going to come up for renewal and that’s going to be a big fight to see if we adopt evidence-based, scientific, human rights-based approaches to the fight against Aids that we know work, or whether we’re going to continue to have ideologically-driven approaches that ultimately won’t be effective.