Nearly 17,000 scientist, humanitarian workers, activists, celebrities, politicians, drug company leaders and AIDS sufferers gathered at Bangkok, Thailand for the 15th International AIDS Conference, July 12. As in past years, attendees held varied opinions on how to curb the growth of the deadly disease – more liberal factions focused on condoms while more conservative groups held onto the promotion of abstinence.
On the first day of the conference, Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, expressed his view that condoms were only a temporary solution to the pandemic.
"I look at condoms as an improvisation, not a solution,” said Museveni, whose country is the only sub-Sahara African country that has successfully curbed the spread of AIDS. With the help of local churches and international humanitarian agencies, Uganda reduced the HIV infection rate from 30 percent in the 1990s to only 6 percent last year.
Museveni, a staunch advocate of the abstinence first policy, said “optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust which is what the condom is all about” are the real solutions.
Museveni’s wife, Janet, is also a supporter of abstinence before marriage, received the Medical Institute for Sexual Health’s “Hero Award” in Washington for her successful promotion of “same-sex” in her country.
According to the Southern Baptist newsletter Baptist Press, Janet said the True Love Waits ministry was among the most “effective strategies used in communicating that message.” True Love Waits, a ministry launched by LifeWay Christian Resource of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be celebrating its 10th year anniversary at the Olympic Games in Athens by displaying hundreds of thousands of abstinence commitment cards from youth around the world.
In addition to abstinence, Museveni’s country adheres to “being faithful” and “using condoms.” Collectively known as the “ABC – Abstain, be faithful, condoms” – the method has been widely supported by the Bush Administration, but at the same time scorned by much of the international community.
"In an age where 5 million people are newly infected each year and women and girls too often do not have the choice to abstain, an abstinence-until-marriage program is not only irresponsible, it's really inhumane," U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D.-Calif., said at the Bangkok conference, in apparent criticism to the U.S.’s policy on AIDS fund.
The Bush administration requires at least one third of the money provided for AIDS relief be used to promote abstinence programs.
Critics said they disagree with Bush’s “neo-conservative” and “religiously driven” motives, and with Museveni’s comments
"Condoms are greatly shortchanged in Africa as a prevention method," said Tim Brown, an epidemiologist from the Hawaii-based think tank East West Center."If you increase condom use by 50 percent, I guarantee you that HIV will go down by 50 percent."
At this year’s conference, protestors held signs that read “Bush lies, people die,” and scorned the United States for its lack of commitment.
In defense of the U.S.’s policy, the U.S. AIDS coordinator Randall Tobias clarified that in fact U.S. spends more money on the fight than all other governments combined, and that the Abstinence policy works.
"This year, America is spending nearly twice as much to fight global AIDS as the rest of the world's donor governments combined," he said. "HIV/AIDS is the real enemy. The denial, stigma and complacency that fuel HIV/AIDS -- these are real enemies too. It is morally imperative that we direct our energies at these enemies, not at one another.”
"Preventing AIDS is not a multiple-choice test," he added. "Abstinence works. Being faithful works. Condoms work. Each has its place."
Currently, about 38 million people are infected with HIV worldwide. Of them, 25 million are from Sub Saharan Africa. Since 1981, AIDS has killed an estimated 20 million people.