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AIDS Activists Say Condom Use Neglected As Way of Curbing HIV/AIDS

There were criticisms of donor-supported AIDS policies today at an international gathering in Abuja, Nigeria. The remarks were leveled by NGOs at the 14th International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa.

Rolake Odetoyinbo is the national coordinator for the Treatment Action Movement of Nigeria. Ms. Odetoyinbo, who is HIV-positive, got the virus from her husband.

She says 69% of the funds provided under the US government’s PEPFAR program, which supports anti-aids initiatives in Nigeria, goes to abstinence-only projects. She says the rest goes to high-risk groups like sex workers and long distance truck drivers. But she says the program leaves out ordinary people.

Mrs. Odetoyinbo says condoms work but are not being supported by the US funds. And she says although people may delay the onset of sexual activity, abstinence as the sole solution does not work, except perhaps for those who take religious vows.

“For those of us in steady relationships or marriages,“ she says, “abstinence is not an option. As for being faithful, how am I going to take responsibility for my partner’s fidelity? I can only speak for myself. And what about those of us who are in a polygamous relationship – are you going to be responsible for five other people’s fidelity?“

Beatrice Were is a member of the group ActionAid Uganda. She says groups fear losing US support if they speak in favor of condoms.

“We are now caught in an ideological battle, “she says. “Those who are speaking [in favor of] condoms are [considered to be] immoral people – those speaking against condoms are the good boys and girls, mama’s children. [They're] speaking the language that the [Ugandan] first lady and Washington wants to hear, but they are not doing us any favors or justice to millions of Ugandans who need to protect themselves from HIV, [they are doing no justice to those of us who] are at risk of hiv and those like me who need to protect themselves from re-infection. “

Ms. Were says Uganda has had a condom shortage for more than a year now, and there is no apparent effort at resuming free distribution. She says billboards funded by the US government and by the first lady’s office call for abstinence until marriage.

The US government denies the allegations, which have been made before. The Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator says it gives equal weight to abstinence, being faithful and condoms. But it says too often condom use is over-emphasized, and it is trying to balance prevention efforts by also promoting abstinence and being faithful. It also says the United States has done much to help relieve the condom shortage in Uganda.