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New Book says Tens of Millions of Young People Face AIDS Risk Due to Lack of Sex Education

The world's largest AIDS conference begins next Sunday night. The 17th International AIDS Conference is being held in Mexico City from August 3rd through August 8th.

At the conference, the anti-poverty agency ActionAid is releasing a new book entitled: Politics of Prevention – A Global Crisis in AIDS and Education. It says tens of millions of young people are at risk due to a lack of comprehensive sex education. David Archer, co-author of the book, spoke from London to VOA English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about what he means by the politics of prevention.

"The field of HIV and AIDS is one where it is now become very clear that although we cannot cure HIV and AIDS, it can be prevented very easily with basic information (and) basic education. But unfortunately, large numbers of children around the world aren't able to access that education and that is as a result of political elements in a number of ways," he says.

Archer outlines the areas where he says politics have hurt the fight against HIV/AIDS.

"First, the politics around the financing of HIV and AIDS. And secondly, politics around…the way in which macro economic support through advice as given by the International Monetary Fund…undermines the capacity of governments to invest in education. And thirdly, the politics of the United Nations, which are unable to confront some of the fundamental truths around HIV and AIDS, which require people to talk about sensitive issues like sex…needle exchange and gay men, which can actually save lives," he says.

Asked why he believes these problems exist more than 25 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he says, "I think in a way a lot of attention is being focused in recent years on treatment and ensuring access to treatment and that's clearly been very important. But in the last 10 years, I think this area of prevention has become increasingly political and increasingly sensitive. And particularly I think we see the way that (President) George Bush's initiative PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief)…has actually politicized and particularly introduced this idea that children around the world should only be taught to abstain, an abstinence-only model of education."

He says that model has been proven a failure both in the United States and elsewhere. Nevertheless, he says the abstinence-only model has been "exported to Africa," displacing more comprehensive programs.

PEPFAR officials deny the program ever over-emphasized abstinence, saying, however, they wanted to ensure that abstinence and being faithful received as much attention as condom use.

The reauthorized version of PEPFAR, approved recently, eliminates the requirement that a certain amount of funds be set aside for abstinence-only programs, although some such programs will continue in small numbers.

President Bush says he's ready to sign the expanded version of PEPFAR, which provides $48 billion dollars for HIV/AIDS over five years. The original version allocated $15 billion. It also stipulates that more than half of the aid goes towards treatment and care and 10 percent for orphans and vulnerable children.

"Archer says, "I would agree that we are making progress in the right direction. I think that officially the money is no longer conditioned on abstinence-only programs and this is clearly a major step forward. Unfortunately, that takes time to filter down into practice. And after several years of funding being dependent on organizations using only abstinence approaches, you have many organizations, who in the desperate need for funding have closed down these other strands of their work. Now it takes time to rebuild those programs in a more comprehensive way."

He adds, "Just actually going to school and staying in school itself can help to reduce the risk of infection from HIV and AIDS because the school offers a safe environment. If that school is also able to offer comprehensive sex education you are considerably safer. The shock truth of course is that over 70 million children around the world don't even go to primary school. So, the first challenge is to get all children into school and then to ensure that those schools are providing life saving education."

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