Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Puritanism Kills in Uganda

The web site Talk To Action had a serious and sad story this week. Uganda had been considered one of the success stories in the battle against AIDS. But Uganda's AIDS Commissioner Kihumuro Apuuli recently announced that HIV infections have almost doubled in that country over the past two years.

And what might have been the cause of that?
Uganda was once an HIV prevention success story, where an ambitious government-sponsored prevention campaign, including massive condom distribution and messages about delaying sex and reducing numbers of partners, pushed HIV rates down from 15 percent in the early 1990s to 5 percent in 2001. But conservative evangelicals rewrote this history--with the full-throated cooperation of Uganda's evangelical first family, the Musevenis. As one Family Research Council paper put it:
"Both abstinence and monogamy helped to curb the spread of AIDS in Uganda...How did this happen? Shortly after he came into office in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda spearheaded a mass education campaign promoting a three-pronged AIDS prevention message: abstinence from sexual activity until marriage; monogamy within marriage; and condoms as a last resort. The message became commonly known as ABC: Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail."

This warped version of the true Uganda story became the mantra in Bush's Washington, with the "C" reduced more and more to an afterthought as time went by. For example, in piling on against a 2002 pro-condom comment by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, Focus on the Family's James Dobson wrote condoms out of the story entirely: "Secretary Powell seems to be ignorant of the fact that Uganda has made great progress against AIDS by emphasizing abstinence, not condoms." Soon, players connected with the Christian right, from Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse to Anita Smith's Children's AIDS Fund, cashed in to the tune of millions of dollars in federal grants to spread the abstinence message in Uganda, the Christian rights' new showcase for a morality-based approach to AIDS. In the case of Smith's outfit, her proposal was shot down by a scientific review committee, but politics prevailed: the head of U.S. AID overruled the experts and demanded that the program be funded. A disaster for abstinence ideology

You wonder, just what is it that these guys get out of all this? Is it the millions of dollars? Mmm, looking at some of the stuff that has been coming out about the Christian Coalition's Rex Reed suggests that it might be that. There's a lot of money in this holier-than-thou business.
Anita Smith has long been a close ally of Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma senator James Dobson helped get elected who is so fanatically pro-abstinence that he has pushed for warning labels on condoms and once demanded the ouster of the head of the Centers for Disease Control for promoting condom use. Coburn's legislative director, Roland Foster, used to regularly send out Children's AIDS Fund emails trashing HIV prevention organizations for being too sexually explicit and calling for them to be investigated and defunded. (Many were.) Once Coburn, a former Congressman, was elected to the Senate in 2004, President Bush picked Smith to replace Coburn as the head of his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Now, according to the State Department email printed below, she's an official U.S. delegate to next week's UN Special Session on AIDS.

Another official U.S. delegate, Melissa Pardue, now a White House functionary, until recently used her perch as a Heritage Foundation policy analyst to supply the Christian right with their talking points on abstinence-only education, forwarding the false claims that multiple scientific studies show that abstinence-only education works (in fact the most persuasive data shows that people who pledge abstinence are at greater risk for getting sexually transmitted diseases) and that the federal government spends far more on comprehensive sex ed (the feds spend almost zero on the latter, but Pardue tiptoes around that by counting all the funds that go to family planning clinics to provide medical care).

There's more.

For some unfathomable reason, certain people are obsessed with anyone having sex with someone they are not legally married to. It's the worst thing in the world to these people, and must be stopped at any cost. We have seen several instances where decisions to literally save lives have been rejected because of some remote chance that someone might be more likely to have sex -- I'm thinking of the controversies over the HPV vaccine and Plan B. To some of us, this is just plain insane. In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has killed millions and millions of people. Anything you can do to reduce the chances of the disease spreading, even reducing it by a small amount, needs to be done.

Some people don't like it when I call these people "nuts." It's not intended, I admit, to be a compliment. But somebody has to say it out loud -- this stuff is nonsense. The oh-so-offended wackos in Montgomery County thought they could kick out the entire school board and take over, because the schools were going to have a better condom video and teach some facts about sexual orientation. Listen, this is nutty, it's absurd. Somebody's got to say it. It's dangerous and it's deadly. It's not just a different opinion -- it's wrong.


Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Jim writes,

The web site Talk To Action had a serious and sad story this week.

And who...or what might this group be about??? Well, folks, follow the links...

Statement of Purpose

Talk to Action is a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right -- and what to do about it.

There is an editorial framework for this site than that is different than you will find on other major blog sites, so please read this carefully: We are pro-religious equality and pro-separation of church and state. We are prochoice, and we support gay and lesbian civil rights -- including marriage equality. Therefore, debates about the validity of abortion and gay rights are off topic.

Well now...that sounds alot like an ideology to me...though I understand "your mileage may differ"...

But, if anyone doubts me, then check out the vita on the "reporter", Esther Kaplan, found here,

To refer to her as a reporter (sans scare quotes) is an abuse of the language. Ideology, thru and thru...

And then Jim concludes,

Listen, this is nutty, it's absurd. Somebody's got to say it. It's dangerous and it's deadly. It's not just a different opinion -- it's wrong.

Ahhhh, now I is dangerous, it is deadly, ergo it is wrong! There is RIGHT and there is, that is about as absolutist as they come.

I will admit, up front, that I have a "different opinion" on the matter of human sexuality, i.e. that it serves a purpose (that is, more than making babies...though that is important, and if you doubt that then take a look at Western Europe), and that that purpose defines limits. I understand that bringing up limits tends to put a crimp on the libertine and licentious crowd, but in order to keep society from self-destructing they are necessary. But, here again, the bottomline is not about FACTS, but about IDEOLOGY.

Here in Fort Collins, Colorado, the local school district has given themselves over to this worldview. Apparently at their meeting on May 25, 2006 they decided upon a series of "talking points" when they convene a public forum ("conveniently" scheduled a day after school lets out here) to present their 7th grade curriculum. The one talking point I intend to address if given an opportunity to speak is this,

"Why the message of abstinence is about health and not about values and beliefs"

Yes, it is in part about health...but only as a subset of values and beliefs since that is what directs all of us this way and that in life.

June 01, 2006 5:42 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Orin, this is the worldwide web, nobody has any obligation to present scholarly analyses of every point they make. If someone has an opinion, it doesn't mean everything they say is wrong.

I included all the author's links so you could track back to the sources everything she said. You may think it's a valid rhetorical approach to attack the web site's intentions when they're saying something you don't agree with, but it is telling that you don't argue with the facts that are included in the article. The fact is, Uganda was one place (like Brazil) that was getting ahead of the AIDS epidemic, using an approach that included condoms. Rightwing ideologues inside the country, and ideologically-based funding from the US, led to a change in the policy, which resulted in an increase in the spread of the disease.

But all you've got for a response is to note that the web site that carried this story has a political angle to it.

As for your complaint about the school board's "talking point," you must realize the precariousness of their position if they try to teach "values" in class. Parents need to do that at home. I sure don't appreciate when some teacher tries to pass their so-called "values" to my kids, and I'll bet you don't either.

Finally, as for right and wrong... We are contrasting two perspectives here. One believes that sex outside of marriage is more important than life itself and that it is appropriate to sacrifice lives in order to promote extramarital abstinence, the other believes that it is more important to save lives than to preserve chastity. Sorry, but the first view is wrong. Actually, it's worst than wrong, it's insane.


June 01, 2006 7:16 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

Here's hoping all portions of the ABC program ("Abstain, Be faithful, and use Condoms if A and B fail") will be equally taught so people might benefit from the best of both ideologies. Limits may be good for some things, but limiting knowledge of how to protect oneself is not good for the well-being of either the individual or society.

Thanks for the progress report from Colorado, Orin. It's a pleasure to watch it evolve from red to purple to blue.

Aunt Bea

June 01, 2006 7:33 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

I thought the point of this blog was that AIDS/HIV has increased, not decreased in Uganda- and blame has been placed on the current administration. People are dying- but at least we didn't give them condoms and promote sex? And a few weeks ago -I responded to the blog here about the right wing lies that AIDS/HIV had decreased in Uganda due to the abstinence policy- A Hopkins study showed that AIDS/HIV may have decreased because of the deaths related to AIDS/HIV. So these groups can claim that abstinence works -they are lying about the facts- and have caused more death and illness by their policies and lies.
The latest AIDS/HIV report shows something like 75% of the new infections in Africa-I think this was in the Wash Post yesterday or the day before- so it must be in other papers(well, don't check the Wash Times).

June 01, 2006 8:29 AM  

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