An international human rights group Wednesday criticized the United States for backing an AIDS prevention campaign in Uganda that focuses exclusively on sexual abstinence, a charge the U.S. government denies.
Human Rights Watch accuses the United States of pressuring Ugandan educators, government officials and others not to refer to the use of condoms or other safe-sex practices in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
"We interviewed Ugandan teachers who were told by U.S. contractors not to talk about condoms to students because the new policy was abstinence only," said Jonathan Cohen, a researcher with the organization. "We documented instances of information about condoms being removed from U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS curricula at the primary school level. We saw a draft secondary school curriculum, funded by the United States, which contained the falsehood that condoms have microscopic pores in latex through which HIV pathogens can pass."
Mr. Cohen says preventing young people from knowing about condoms and other safe-sex practices makes them more vulnerable to being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A public information officer at the United States embassy in Uganda's capital, Kampala, Mark Schlachter, says the Ugandan and U.S. governments have always maintained what is commonly called the "ABC approach" to prevention: abstain; be faithful; and condom use.
Mr. Schlachter says all programs being funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief adheres to the "ABC" goals and do not focus on abstinence alone.
"I think this confusion is swirling around Uganda because Uganda is the focal point for, really, global attention on HIV/AIDS," he said. "To the extent that there is some debate about the relative importance of A, B, and C, Uganda is going to be the focal point of that debate. That debate really doesn't exist inside this country. I think if you talk to the average Ugandan on the street they would echo that - ABC has worked here and it's going to continue to do so."
Mr. Schlachter says the United States contributed some $100 million for AIDS programs in Uganda last year.
Uganda is considered one of Africa's bright lights in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The country's HIV prevalence rate plummeted from 15 percent in 1992 to six percent in 2002.