The top UN AIDS official in Uganda is denying reports the government is pressuring his agency not to promote the use of condoms. However, he’s concerned that some people may be trying to mix facts about HIV/AIDS with ideology.
In Uganda, rumors have circulated that the government was telling UNAIDS to stress abstinence and be faithful – rather than condoms – in its well-known ABC approach to AIDS prevention.
However, Dr. Ruben del Prado denies it.
He says, "I have not received, as the UNAIDS country coordinator in Uganda, any pressure in writing or verbal or otherwise that we should back off in supporting programs. And the reality is, that we are not supporting programs. UNAIDS does not support programs. What we support are the frameworks to be implemented of the country. So, this is not really true."
He says, “UNAIDS operates within the laws of the land” and the many structures set up by the government to combat HIV/AIDS.
Dr. del Prado also denies reports that Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni pressured him to promote abstinence and faithfulness over condoms.
"What the First Lady has communicated to me is to ask that whenever we support the frameworks for action in Uganda that we give equal attention to all elements that could be beneficial to prevention – and in this case – the abstinence and be faithful parts of the ABC (program) that Uganda has become known for all over the world. But in no way has either the first lady or the president or the minister of information or the Uganda AIDS Council communicated to us that we should hold off on condom promotion activities because we don’t do that," he says.
As part of World AIDS Day activities, Mrs. Museveni did call for a national census to determine how many young people are virgins. She is quoted as saying the information would help the government formulate its AIDS policies regarding abstinence and faithfulness.
The UNAIDS official is concerned about those who he says are “polarizing” the discussion about HIV/AIDS prevention in Uganda.
"What is happening though, which is very, very strange in a country like Uganda, is that we are seeing a number of organizations polarizing the response. You know, they are trying to separate the A from the B from the C, which was never the case. It was always a combination of A and B and C and more – public health practices, blood safety, open discussion about sexuality and prevention. So, it goes way beyond ABC," he says.
Dr. Del Prado says a discussion about HIV/AIDS prevention is worthwhile, as long as it’s not based on ideology. Also, he rejects statements by some who say the use of condoms will lead to more sex among young people.
"I work for an organization that works with facts. It’s scientific evidence. And as much as an umbrella does not cause rain, the condom does not cause sex," he says.
And he says there’s clear evidence that many of the young girls getting infected with HIV are not being infected by teenage boys. Studies have shown that often it is older men who are spreading the disease among young women.
Dr. Del Prado is also denying a report in the Monitor Newspaper that UNAIDS has been warned by the Ugandan government not to support gay groups. Homosexuality is considered illegal in Uganda.
He says, "I read it in The Monitor myself on the 29th I believe of November that we have received a letter. There’s actual mention of a letter. UNAIDS country office in Kampala has never received a letter from the Ministry of Information warning us."
He says while UNAIDS is respectful of the laws and norms of Ugandan society, it will provide HIV/AIDS prevention information to those at risk. Dr. del Prado says this is in accord with the UN General Assembly Special Session on AIDS in 2001 and the UN’s universal principles of non-discrimination. But he says UNAIDS does not support specific groups, including those representing gays and lesbians.
Here in the United States, there’s also controversy over AIDS prevention. According to the Washington Post newspaper, a US congressional staff analysis says many young Americans in federally funded abstinence-only programs are given false or misleading information. This includes telling teenagers that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that touching a person’s genitals can lead to pregnancy, and that HIV can be spread through sweat or tears. Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat, says, “I don’t think we ought to lie to our children about science.”
However, some supporters of US abstinence only programs call the report politically motivated and a “disservice to children.” The Post says the Bush Administration is providing 170-million dollars for abstinence-only programs next year.