Africa: Abstinence Push Fails to Slow Spread of HIV

Sex abstinence campaigns in Kenya and Uganda have not reduced the spread of HIV/Aids, a study has shown.

Researchers sought to determine the impact of a $1.4 billion (S40 billion) US expenditure in sub-Sahara Africa on drives intended to discourage pre-marital sex and promote faithfulness in marriage.

The money was spent over a 12-year period in 14 countries, including Tanzania and Rwanda. The funding was part of a US scheme known as the "President's Emergency Programme for Aids Relief or Pepfar"

"The study failed to find evidence of a relationship between Pepfar abstinence and faithfulness funding and reduction in high-risk sexual behaviours," the report says.

The findings are based on observations of nearly 500,000 Africans under 30, among them 35,000 Kenyans.

The US provided Kenya with $5 million (Sh500 million) for HIV/Aids prevention and treatment.

Anti-retroviral drugs were given to 860,000 Kenyans last year through Pepfar, which also funded circumcision of 225,000 men.

In the Stanford University study published this week, researchers looked at the age of first sexual encounter, number of sex partners and frequency of teenage pregnancies.

Data from the countries that received Pepfar funding was compared with data from eight sub-Saharan countries not included in the plan.

"We detected no relative change over time in the number of sexual partners in the past 12 months, age at first intercourse or proportion of teenage pregnancy between people in countries with Pepfar-funded abstinence programmes and those in states without such funding," the study goes on.

"Results suggest that Pepfar funding likely did not reduce high-risk sexual behaviour."

REDUCTION OF INFECTION

The study makes specific reference to Uganda's ABC campaign (Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom) drive.

It says ABC had been credited in some earlier studies with effectively discouraging high-risk behaviour.

However, the authors say they found no effect on HIV transmission rates in Uganda as a result of the abstinence and fidelity programmes.

"The funds focused on such efforts might have been better directed to interventions proved effective in limiting the spread of HIV," the study says.

The number of years women remain in school has been identified as the most important factor in promoting or discouraging risky sexual behaviour.

Treating HIV+ pregnant women has been shown to be an effective intervention as it helps prevent transmission of the virus to newborns.

Promoting circumcision has also proved an effective means of reducing transmission.

In response to the findings, Pepfar officials said their scheme "has continually evolved its approach to HIV prevention, based on the latest scientific evidence and past lessons".

SOURCE: The Nation