A new report says more then 25 years into the AIDS epidemic, prevention remains a top priority in battling the disease. However, it says donor support for condoms and contraceptives in developing countries remains stagnant and far below projected needs.
The report, from Population Action International, will be formally presented early next month at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Some of the highlights were released Tuesday.
Amy Coen, president and CEO of Population Action International (PAI), says, "We really have to start looking at the future of the world and people's lives around this disease. And that means we have to work on making sure that it's not spread any further. Prevention has got to be integrated into policies and funding and programs at all levels of people's lives. We have to do all we can to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS."
Coen says abstinence is against human nature and therefore not a reliable prevention method. "Sexual activity is a strong human drive. It's a very good part, a happy part, hopefully, of all marriages and most relationships. Asking people to stop having sex may sound good but has never worked any time in history. And it isn't working now," she says.
Coen says prevention must include both condoms and contraceptives, which can prevent unwanted pregnancies and mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus.
"We really, really have to scale up and integrate condoms and contraceptives into HIV prevention. I don't think people realize that contraceptives are indeed a prevention strategy and they are…. They have to be available. You can't walk two days to a clinic with a baby on your back and find out there are no contraceptives in the clinic," she says.
Also speaking at a news conference Tuesday was the report's co-author, Dr. Karen Hardee, who says in recent years the use of condoms has been deemphasized in favor of abstinence. She says, "An assessment was done a few years ago that showed that fewer than half of the people who wanted to use a condom during a sex act could obtain one. That's inexcusable 20 years into the HIV epidemic. And despite the fact that there are 2.5 million new HIV infections that occur every year, overall donor support in developing countries for condoms has remained largely unchanged over the past few years. Of the estimated 18 billion condoms that were needed in 2006, for example, donors provided just 2.3 billion. So not even half, not even a quarter," she says.The report criticized the US PEPFAR program started by President Bush, saying it emphasized abstinence over condoms. PEPFAR officials have denied this, saying condoms have been a major part of the program. But they also say abstinence and being faithful did not receive enough attention.