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“There’s More to Fighting AIDS than ABC,” says Catholic Magazine

July 23, 2003

Exporting Bush’s Puritanism to Africa May Scare Away Those Who Need Help the Most.

Washington, DC–The latest issue of Conscience magazine highlights how America is exporting its own version of the ABC campaign (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) to fight AIDS in Africa but could end up hurting those it’s designed to help, especially as the Bush administration stops at the letter ‘A.’

The news journal of Catholic opinion has two lead articles, “Getting Real About HIV/AIDS,” by an AIDS educator in Zimbabwe, and “Sexual Illiteracy,” by a Catholic theologian, that delve into what it will really take to address AIDS in Africa. The authors’ conclusions are a far cry from those of the US government, which is dictating that a third of the money marked for prevention in its $15 billion global AIDS package must fund “abstinence-unless-married” programs.

Dr. Sunanda Ray and Rosemary Radford Ruether both argue that promoting abstinence alone not only stigmatizes sex, but fails to confront the underlying causes of the epidemic in Africa—poverty, economic dependence of women on men, and fear of discrimination.

Ray, executive director of the Southern Africa HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination Service, uses personal stories of young people entering into their first sexual experiences to show how “One element, such as abstinence, cannot be taken in isolation and promoted as the key solution to the epidemic… The ABC approach can only work if it is part of a wider strategy.” Ray is particularly critical of faith-based organizations in Africa who serve HIV positive people but promote abstinence only and create “an impression that their clients are contaminated and unclean, and deny their need to be fully functioning sexual beings.”

Ruether, a professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, states that Bush’s “effort to impose Western sexual morality on Africans in the AIDS crisis not only does not represent values that will work in Africa, but also is based on ‘values’ that have never ‘worked’ in the United States or indeed any place in the Western world … The recent announcement about the US government’s funding for AIDS prevention in Africa is an example of Western puritanical missionary zeal that seems likely to add to the social disasters of African life.”

To interview David Nolan, editor of Conscience; Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice; or any of the authors, please contact Jon O’Brien at (202) 986 6093.