The United States has spent $1.3 billion since 2005 on abstinence education in Africa as part of its fight against HIV/AIDS, but researchers say that the education has had little effect on the sexual practices of those who received it.
The New York Times reported that the policy – part of the Bush initiative President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief aka PEPFAR – was a waste of money, surprising no one who works in HIV prevention.
The study, presented at an AIDS conference in Seattle by Nathan Lo, a second-year medical student at Stanford Medical School, showed the cost-benefit analysis of the abstinence only education.
In it, Lo compared 22 African, 14 that had and eight that had not received PEPFAR funding. He found that there was no measurable difference in first age of sexual behavior, first child, or number of sexual partners, especially after 2005 when funding for the abstinence education peaked.
PEPFAR was enacted in 2003 by President George W. Bush and provided billions to treat Africans with AIDS, but, the Times reports, the Republican-controlled House included a provision that one-third of the prevention money had to go to programs that encouraged abstinence. The provision as a compromise between Christian conservatives and liberals in order to pass the funding.
The presentation was lauded by the audience of AIDS workers from representatives from Doctors Without Borders to PEPFAR itself, as well as advocates who had long complained about the faith-based policy.
This is not to say that PEPFAR has had no effect on HIV/AIDS in Africa, but the study does show that maybe it’s time to rethink PEPFAR funding and focus on policies that have proven effective rather than continue the abstinence only program.