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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | East Africa | UGANDA: Rights group criticises emphasis on abstinence | | Focus
Wednesday 22 February 2006
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UGANDA: Rights group criticises emphasis on abstinence

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  Salamatu Foundation

KAMPALA, 30 March (PLUSNEWS) - The policy shift towards "abstinence-only programmes" to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS could reverse significant gains made by Uganda in the fight against the pandemic, Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned on Wednesday.

In a new report, titled: 'The Less They Know, the Better: Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda', HRW said the Ugandan government had removed critical HIV/AIDS information from primary school curricula, including information about condoms, safer sex, and the risks of HIV in marriage.

"These abstinence-only programmes leave Uganda’s children at risk of HIV," Jonathan Cohen, an HRW researcher, and co-author of the report, said in a press statement on Wednesday.

"Draft secondary school materials state falsely that latex condoms have microscopic pores that can be permeated by HIV, and that pre-marital sex is a form of 'deviance'," the statement added.

Ugandan government officials however strongly denied the claims made in the report, with the Primary Health Care Minister, Alex Kamugisha, saying HRW was "peddling blatant lies".

"Uganda has never abandoned the ABC [Abstinence, Be Faithful and use Condoms] strategy, we educate our population on all methods of prevention of HIV," Kamugisha told IRIN on Wednesday. "ABC was created by our AIDS control programme almost two decades ago, long before the US began funding abstinence programmes in Uganda.

"For younger primary school children, the appropriate thing is to focus on abstinence - but later, we teach them all the ways to avoid contracting the disease, including the use of condoms," he added.

Uganda has been widely acclaimed for its success in the fight against HIV/AIDS, managing to bring its prevalence levels down from over 20 percent in the late 1980s, to around six percent by the end of 2003.

Much of this success has been credited to the ABC strategy. However, HRW said condoms were being left out of the equation, especially for young people, an approach the report claimed was orchestrated and funded by the US government.

"As the largest single donor to HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda, the United States is using its unparalleled influence to export abstinence-only programs that have been an abject failure in its own country," the report stated.

It added that as of November 2004, the US embassy in Kampala had budgeted about US $8 million for "abstinence and behaviour change" in the country. That same month, HRW alleges, the Uganda AIDS Commission drafted an “Abstinence and Being Faithful” (AB) strategy, saying that the inclusion of condoms in the strategy could be confusing to young people.

At an international AIDS summit in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2004, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decried condoms as encouraging promiscuity, and lashed out at them as inappropriate for Ugandans.

"I look at condoms as an improvisation, not a solution," Museveni said, adding that he preferred "optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust, which is what the condom is all about."

The report said Ugandan first lady, Janet Museveni, one of the leading proponents of abstinence in Uganda, was using her position of influence to "intimidate organisations that promote condoms to young people".

Uganda, it added, was faced with a nationwide condom shortage due to new government restrictions on condom imports. The report added that when the health ministry recalled a batch of condoms due to failed quality, rather than address the shortage, some ministers suggested that Ugandans adopt abstinence as a preferable HIV-prevention strategy.

"Uganda is gradually removing condoms from its HIV/AIDS strategy, and the consequences could be fatal," Tony Tate, an HRW researcher and co-author of the report, said in a statement.

Alex Opio, the assistant commissioner for Uganda’s national disease control programme, told IRIN that any claims that the government was against the use of condoms were false, as the government was actually the leading importer of condoms in the country.

"Out of 120 million condoms used in the country each year, over 60 percent are imported by government," Opio said on Wednesday.

Museveni's spokesman, Onapito Ekomoloit, defended the president and first lady, saying they had remained consistent in advocating for a multi-pronged approach to fighting HIV/AIDS.

"They have been saying that those who are sexually active should be faithful to their partners, but others who are single should abstain until marriage, and those who cannot abstain should use condoms," Ekomoloit told IRIN.

Uganda has seen close to one million people die due to the pandemic, 78,000 of them in 2003 alone. More than 700,000 children have lost at least one parent to the disease, according to government and UNAIDS statistics.


Recent UGANDA Reports
Global fund lifts ban on AIDS grants,  11/Nov/05
Inquiry starts into mismanagement of AIDS funds,  14/Sep/05
Government to probe use of anti-AIDS grants,  26/Aug/05
Global fund suspends anti-AIDS grants,  24/Aug/05
ARV targets achieved ahead of schedule,  20/Jul/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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