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Ugandan AIDS Organization Questions New Report Downplaying Abstinence and Fidelity

A new study on HIV/AIDS in Uganda is expected to spark controversy and debate. That’s because the findings say programs promoting abstinence and faithfulness have done little, if anything, to bring a decline in AIDS rates. In fact, Columbia University researchers say only condom use appears to have been effective.

Many health officials have cited Uganda as an example of a success story in the battle against the pandemic. Uganda uses the ABC approach: abstinence, be faithful, and condoms. The report comes at a time when the Bush administration and others are stressing abstinence and faithfulness.

The findings, not yet published, were announced Wednesday at the 12th Conference on Retroviruses in Boston, Massachusetts. The study was done over a 10-year period in Uganda’s Rakai District.

However, the study already has its critics. Dr. Alex Coutinho is executive director of TASO, a well-known AIDS organization in Uganda. From Gulu in northern Uganda, Dr. Coutinho gave his reaction to the report to VOA English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.

“First, I don’t believe the report,” he says, I don’t believe anybody can desegregate between the ABC or even the D all the way to Z.” He says, “It’s even more complicated than the A, B or C.” He says all the components are important for fighting AIDS, including what he calls D for determine and disclose a person’s AIDS status.

Dr. Coutinho says teaching teenagers about abstinence is useful, but such an approach probably would not work on young unmarried men in the armed forces or police. Condom use is important for them. He says Uganda uses a comprehensive approach to fit particular demographic groups.

But he says one element of the prevention effort should not be stressed over another, despite the effort in some quarters to promote abstinence. He says, “You must take a comprehensive approach.”