Fighting AIDS with Morals

Wed May 4, 2005 3:12 PM EDT

This past March, the Bush administration was pressuring the UN to stop promoting needle-exchange programs in the campaign to decrease HIV/AIDS worldwide. Now the administration is continuing on with its abstinence-only bent.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has, in the past few years, been offering grants to help other countries fight HIV and AIDS, but only on the condition that they condemn prostitution and keep funds from the treatment of sex workers. The BBC reports: "Much of the spending is being channeled to programs that advocate abstinence, rather than condom use, and cannot be used…to treat prostitutes." Brazil recently turned down some $40 million in USAID funds because of concerns that this clause would neuter their treatment policies which have been widely successful in keeping infection rates down. Indeed, the Brazilian AIDS program is seen as a model for other countries to follow. And one of the key components of their success has been treating infected sex workers and their clients.

While Brazil will be losing out on crucial funds from USAID, other countries, including Germany, are helping to fund Brazil's programs, without demanding that the country compromise their most successful strategies. But other countries may not be in a position to turn down U.S. funding. USAID's faith-based initiatives are favoring certain groups, mostly those whose abstinence-only policies are not as successful as targeted campaigns focusing on high-risk populations (sex workers, intravenous drug users) and condom education. Check out a 2002 list of countries that received USAID money—and more importantly, who is receiving the money. It's not likely that the Diocese of Kigali in Rwanda will find any problem with passing up educating and treating Rwandan sex workers for abstinence-only education. Pressuring countries into overlooking crucial strategies (or selectively giving the money to people who will) that have proven effective in the name of "morals" is not simply irresponsible. Rather, it effectively confers a huge share of responsibility for the lives that could have been saved squarely on this administration's shoulders.

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