‘Abstinence-Only’ Rule Hurts Fight Against Aids, Research Report Asserts

Bush administration rules stressing abstinence are hampering efforts to halt the spread of AIDS overseas, a new report says.

The report, mandated by Congress and prepared by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, asserts that the emphasis on abstinence is limiting the ability of some nations, many in Africa, to design programs that meet their specific needs.

By law, one-third of the money the federal government spends on AIDS prevention in 15 countries must go to groups that stress the need to remain abstinent until marriage.

Such organizations are usually “faith-based.” Many refuse to discuss the role condoms play in AIDS transmission and will not make them available. Critics say the approach is unrealistic and leaves a vulnerable population open to infection.

The U.S. government’s goal through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is to prevent seven million new AIDS infections in the 15 countries by 2010, reported the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The report says that goal will be difficult to meet under the current restrictions.

The report states that officials in the targeted countries have tried to abide by the provision but have found it makes their work less effective.

“Despite the efforts of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to administer the allocation judiciously, it has greatly limited the ability of Country Teams to develop and implement comprehensive prevention programs that are well integrated with each other and with counseling and testing, care, and treatment programs and that target those populations at greatest risk,” the report says.

Elsewhere the report says bluntly, “Most people need information about and access to all preventive methods, including condoms.”

Some members of Congress are trying to repeal the provision. U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) have introduced a bill they call the Protection Against Trans­mission of HIV for Women and Youth Act of 2007 (H.R. 1713) that would do away with the one-third requirement.

In addition, some lawmakers in Con­gress are pushing for tax funding of comprehensive sex education in Am­erica. Under current law, federal funds pay only for “abstinence-only” programs.