The Missing Factor

"In 1993," writes Helen Epstein in The New York Times Magazine, "I . . . spent some 18 months in Uganda, the country with the highest H.I.V.-infection rate in the world at the time. I was conducting research on a vaccine to protect Africans from the virus. The vaccine was not a success, but what I didn't know then was that H.I.V. rates in Uganda were plummeting anyway." The strange thing was that none of the necessary factors seemed to be in place. "Very few people," she writes, "used condoms or had H.I.V. tests, and there was only one clinic in the entire country that specialized in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. . . . Few international health experts were working on AIDS in Uganda." Well, one thing had changed. In 1986, the Ugandan government had started a program to encourage sexual fidelity. Everyone, from religious leaders to teachers to music groups to government officials, was enlisted to promote slogans like "Love Faithfully" and "Zero Grazing." For Ugandans, the message became almost impossible to avoid. As this was going on, Epstein recounts, "The urgent message for partner reduction was conveyed through informal social networks. . . . The anger of the activists, and the eloquent sorrow of women throughout the country who nursed the sick and helped neighbors cope, was a harsh reproach to promiscuous men." As I've reported on BreakPoint before, the results were astounding. From 1989 to 1995, the rate of casual sex in Uganda fell 60 percent, and the rate of HIV infection fell along with it. The efforts toward partner reduction were, and continue to be, a huge success. For instance, though teenage pregnancy rates have remained the same, teen marriage rates have risen, which means less premarital sex and less HIV for this age group. And the contrast between Uganda and other African countries is striking. Epstein writes, "In such countries as Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, condoms have been emphasized as the main method of prevention, and H.I.V. rates have remained high. In all three countries, condoms are used more frequently than in Uganda when H.I.V. rates were falling rapidly in the early 1990s, and teenage sexual debut is later." Epstein's last sentence is especially significant. Despite all the evidence, many so-called AIDS "experts" and other influential voices insist on concentrating on less important factors. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once wrote, "Countries like Uganda and Thailand that have enjoyed some success in preventing AIDS suggest that abstinence campaigns can be effective, but only in conjunction with straight talk about condoms -- not with the administration's approach of beginning and ending the conversation with abstinence." Not once in the column did Kristof refer to monogamy or faithfulness. But then the Times wouldn't normally give any credit or comfort to the big, bad Christian Right. Well, as we now see, even the Times has to conclude the "fidelity fix" does the job. Fidelity makes all the sense in the world because it conforms to the way God made us. For further reading and information: Helen Epstein, "The Fidelity Fix," New York Times Magazine, 13 June 2004. Reprinted by the UCLA Department of Epidemiology. Arthur Allen, "Sex Change," New Republic, 27 May 2002. Joseph Loconte, "The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda," Backgrounder#1692, The Heritage Foundation, 29 September 2003. Rich Lowry, "A culture war over condoms,", 14 January 2003. John Donnelly, "Estimates on HIV called too high," Boston Globe, 20 June 2004. Nicholas D. Kristof, "When Prudery Kills," The New York Times, 8 October 2003. See also Chuck Colson's letter to the editor responding to this column. (Archived articles; both cost $2.95 to retrieve.) See the Wilberforce Forum document "A Responsible Approach to a Global AIDS Policy." The aWAKE Project: Uniting against the African AIDS Crisis (W Publishing, 2002) is a collection of stories and essays geared toward educating and mobilizing Americans to help with the AIDS crisis in Africa. Charles Colson and Anne Morse, "Confronting Moral Horror," Christianity Today, February 2004. Stanley Kurtz, "Power to the People," National Review Online, 1 July 2004.


Chuck Colson


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