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« Experts Are Killing Ugandans | Main | Mark Earley and Pat Nolan: Prison reform transcends boundaries »

June 30, 2008

More on AIDS in Africa

Storyaidsafrica2 As Kim pointed out, Africans know there is more to fighting AIDS than pragmatic answers--which aren't real answers at all (treating symptoms instead of the problems).

The Rev. Sam Ruteikara writes,

In the late 1980s, before international experts arrived to tell us we had it all "wrong," we in Uganda devised a practical campaign to prevent the spread of HIV. We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful. Our campaign was called ABC (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms), but our main message was: Stick to one partner. We promoted condoms only as a last resort.

Because we knew what to do in our country, we succeeded. The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002. But international AIDS experts who came to Uganda said we were wrong to try to limit people's sexual freedom. Worse, they had the financial power to force their casual-sex agendas upon us.

It might not be "popular," but chastity is practical: It works. Or it did. But it has become lost in the debate once more. While people literally are dying as lawmakers debate what to do with the money, it is deadly--literally--to leave chastity promotion out of the aid package to Africa.

Ruteikara again:

International suppliers make broad, oversimplified statements such as "You can't change Africans' sexual behavior." While it's true that you can't change everybody, you don't have to. If the share of men having three or more sexual partners in a year drops from 15 percent to 3 percent, as happened in Uganda between 1989 and 1995, HIV infection rates will plunge. It is that simple.

We, the poor of Africa, remain silenced in the global dialogue. Our wisdom about our own culture is ignored.

Telling men and women to keep sex sacred -- to save sex for marriage and then remain faithful -- is telling them to love one another deeply with their whole hearts. Most HIV infections in Africa are spread by sex outside of marriage: casual sex and infidelity. The solution is faithful love.

As I wrote a few years ago in "The Moral of the Story,"

“What’s the use of religion if you’re any good?” sings Bono in “Mercy,” a song that was not (but should have been) included in U2’s latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Those who eschew any moral dimension to AIDS prevention seem to believe humans are good already and don’t need to change—that AIDS is something completely disconnected from human nature that needs only to be wiped away with condoms and drugs. But this denies truth.

No, life is not the way it’s supposed to be; AIDS is one more evidence of the Fall. And because of the Fall, we are not “any good”—and we do need “religion.” We need the demands for change that brings us back to who we are supposed to be, to be as God intended. If we are “any good,” then what happens if there are enough condoms and clean needles and enough drugs to answer HIV/AIDS? Without internal change, you still have predatory men, unfaithful husbands, women trapped in prostitution, drug users beholden to life-numbing chemicals—they might have all the condoms and medicine they need, but would you say their lives are whole, and your job is now done? You shouldn’t, and neither should anyone involved in helping the victims of the AIDS crisis.

“Love brings with it a clarity.” If we are to truly love and truly have mercy on “the least of these” who are AIDS victims, we must tell them the truth.

Here are a few books on the issue you might find helpful:

Readers, feel free to add to the reading list.

(Image © CNN)

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