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Sexual abstinence behind Uganda's AIDS success story. (News in Brief: Uganda).

Nairobi, Kenya--Some experts say the dramatic drop in HIV/AIDS infections in Uganda is proof that abstinence from sex is the best way to combat the deadly disease, especially in the world's hardest-hit area, sub-Saharan Africa. Infections in the East African country, which once had the highest rate in the world, have dropped from 30 percent of the population in the early 1990s to around 10 percent today.

Although promotion of condom use has been a part of Uganda's HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, the concept of "True Love Awaits" - an abstinence-until-marriage program launched in 1994 and supported by schools and religious organizations - is credited with bringing down the infection rate.

"Abstinence remains the best strategy, especially for the risk group aged 1525 years," said Dorothy Kwenze, an HIV/ AIDS activist in neighbouring Kenya. "The concept has worked well for Uganda and can work for other African countries."

According to a study by development experts Rand Stoneburner, Uganda's prevention model, used elsewhere, has the potential to reduce the AIDS rate in Africa's worst-stricken countries by 80 percent. Stoneburner, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist, says that that is the same level of efficacy one might expect from an HIV vaccine.

Uganda boasts the most successful HIV/AIDS prevention case in Africa to date, as it is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa where the incidence of HIV/AIDS has decreased substantially. Credit is partly attributed to President Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in 1986, restored political stability, and led an aggressive anti-AIDS campaign by encouraging HIV-testing, abstinence and the use of condoms. His government also invested heavily in training health workers, creating counseling networks and treating sexually transmitted diseases.

"President Museveni has made it a point to speak out about AIDS at every opportunity, and he has made all of his ministers, not just his health minister, responsible and accountable for results," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on World AIDS Day last year.

Promotion of condom use is generally pushed by U.N. agencies, population control advocates, and others, as the most effective way to combat AIDS. Reports by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health argue that the Uganda success story was partly due to the use of condoms.

On the other hand, Dr. Vinand Nantulya, an infectious disease specialist who helped advise Museveni, said Ugandans "really never took to condoms." The message that took hold was that young people, who are at a higher risk of being infected, should not have sex until marriage and then remain faithful to their single partner.

The results, when they came, were remarkable by any measure. By 2001, the number of pregnant Ugandan women testing positive for HIV had fallen from 21.2 percent at the height of the epidemic in 1991 to 6.2 percent (Stephen Mbogo, CNS, Jan. 14/03).
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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