Uganda AIDS Experience Points to Effectiveness of Abstinence Education

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Uganda AIDS Experience Points to Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 5, 2004

Washington, DC ( — A leading abortion advocate in Congress opened up a can of worms last week when he released a report claiming that federally funded abstinence education programs are ineffective and rely on misleading science and information.

However, a look at a key anti-AIDS program in the African nation of Uganda points to solid success of how focus on abstinence can decrease infection rates.

In an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Times newspaper, Washington-area investigative writer Carey Roberts takes a look at the Ugandan success story.

A focus on abstinence education "has been carried out in Uganda over the past 15 years," Roberts writes.

"There, a massive public education campaign was mounted … and religious organizations were tapped to play key roles," Roberts explained.

"The results were impressive: the HIV infection rate in Uganda dropped from 15 percent to 5 percent. In 1991, 21 percent of pregnant women had the deadly HIV virus. Ten years later, that figure had dropped to 6 percent," Roberts wrote in the Times article.

In fact, only 6.2% of Ugandans in the 15-49 age group are now HIV-positive, compared with more than 15% in the early 1990s.

The success was so overwhelming that Janet Museveni, wife of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, will host a party this week for more than 70,000 young Ugandans who have pledged to abstain from sex before marriage as part of the nation’s continued campaign.

Observers are taking note of the Ugandan success story.

"Uganda has consequently become one of the rare success stories on a continent that is being ravaged by the HIV/Aids epidemic," writes the London Sunday Herald newspaper. "While the rate of new infections continues to increase in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has succeeded in lowering its very high infection rates."

However, opponents of abstinence education, like Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California who released the report, say that safe sex — encouraging the use of contraception instead of or in addition to abstinence — is more effective.

Not so, according to Professor Francis Omaswa, the director of Uganda’s health ministry.

"[Condoms] are not the main reason for the drop in our HIV rates," Omaswa explains. "Our most important achievement has been to change sexual behavior. There is more responsible sex – full stop."

Why don’t safe sex advocates embrace abstinence education?

"The answer: it’s a little too … puritanical," Casey writes. "Abstinence is something a Bible-thumping preacher might push but not the respectable public-health types at the UNAIDS."

But, Casey says speakers at forums on combating the spread of the deadly AIDS disease have begun acknowledging the failure of safe sex campaigns.

The U.N. Population Division reluctantly agreed: "Much effort has been spent on promoting the prophylactic use of condoms as part of AIDS prevention. However, over the years, the condom has not become more popular among couples."

Part of the reason for the failure of the safe sex campaign is because of the general 15 percent failure rate of condoms. Casey says many African people refuse to use a condom and play Russian roulette with their lives.