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2004-07-06 - 1:42 p.m.

Focusing on Abstinence is Not the Answer

It’s taken President Bush a long time to learn the word “pandemic.” Although he barely mentioned AIDS during his 2000 presidential campaign or in the first years of his presidency, he has since 2003 made fighting the disease in poor countries a policy priority – at least with his words. But words are not enough. Recently in a televised speech before the Greater Exodus Baptist Church I heard him use a noun it's taken him a long time to understand - "pandemic". He used it not once, but about five times in five minutes! (I think he may have used it as a noun, adjective, and verb!) And also, for the first time he suggested that the United States in their fight against AIDS could "learn from the experience" of countries like Uganda and embrace the use of condoms to prevent its spread. Well, hooray! Mr. President. I commend you -- congratulations for finally getting the picture. He was quick to say, however, that he still advocates "a practical, balanced and moral" ABC approach: Abstain, Be faithful in marriage, and, when appropriate, use Condoms."

In 2002, Bush promised 15 billion dollars over five years to fight AIDS, however, again those were just words. It’s taken a long time to translate those words into action. The first $350 million was not released until February 2004. Furthermore, because of the Bush-pharmaceutical company alliances, the US anti-AIDS program continues to favor specific brand-name drugs over generics, wasting tax money to create bigger profits for the big pharmaceuticals. If Bush would allow generic medicines approved by the World Health Organization be used, four times as many people could be treated for the same costs, according to Asia Russell, coordinator for Health GAP, an international advocacy group. It is with good reason AIDS activists in the United States express great concern at the nomination of Randall Tobias, a former top official with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lily, to the post of Global Coordinator of the US Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. Under his leadership, this brand name over generics will not change, I suspect.

The U.N. AIDS agency report states that 20 million people have died since the disease was first diagnosed in 1981 and about 3 million are dying each year. Thirty-eight million people are currently infected, according to the latest agency figures. Money remains a significant problem. By 2007, it is estimated that $20 billion a year will be needed to address the many problems in developing countries, including drugs for 6 million people, AIDS testing for 100 million adults, HIV education in schools, and the care of 22 million AIDS orphans. Did you read that? Twenty-two million AIDS orphans, some of whom are themselves infected.

Let me do the math for you...The $20 million is going to provide drugs for 6 million people. We expect 3 million to die this year...that leaves about 29 million people who are currently infected who will not be provided medication...and that's assuming none of the 100 million who are tested are all negative for HIV and that the education is effective.

The disease is spreading fastest in Eastern Europe and Asia with 60 per cent of the world’s population, but infections are also on the rise in the United States and Western Europe, particularly among homosexual and bisexual men. Experts believe the statistics may mask an underlying problem of bisexual men infecting women, since in sub-Saharan Africa there are13 infected women to every 10 men.

A truth – twenty million people have died since 1981 when it was first diagnosed. Another truth: there are 22 million AIDS orphans!

It is an antiquated notion that talking with our children about sex and protecting themselves is going to somehow encourage them to have sex. I hope that the President’s ABC approach indicates that he may finally have gotten the message that teaching our children "If you are gonna have sex, USE a condom" is not going to be the determining factor in whether they engage in that activity. Children in this country are having sex at younger and younger ages as is evidenced by the following CNN article, dated back in 2000 – I doubt things have improved any. And while the article was entitled “U.S. Boys Having Sex Earlier,” for the most part they are having it with girls!

From a CNN article dated 2000:

…Gary Gates and Freya Sonenstein of the Urban Institute in Washington looked at interviews done with 1,200 boys between 15 and 19 as part of the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males. They found that by 19, most have had sex. "A majority of U.S. adolescent males report having engaged in genital sexual activities with females," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Family Planning Perspectives.

"Among 15-year-old males, 28 percent have had vaginal intercourse but 37 percent have had vaginal, anal or oral intercourse and 44 percent have participated in some genital sexual activity with a female," they wrote. The older the boy, the more likely he was to have had sex, they found.

"Among 16 year olds, 47 percent have had vaginal intercourse but 62 percent have had any experience of genital sexual activity." They found that 78 percent of youths between 17 and 19 said they had some sort of sexual activity, 68 percent of them vaginal intercourse.

Worries about teen pregnancy may have encouraged youths to try other kinds of sex, Lisa Remez of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which publishes Family Planning Perspectives and sponsors research into sexual behavior, said in a second report.

"When we, as adults, tell our children to abstain from sex, we might as well be speaking a different language," Alan Guttmacher Institute president Sara Seims said in a statement.”

Far better, it seems to me, that our young people learn to protect themselves than run the risk of contracting HIV or of an unwanted pregnancy…"a practical, balanced and moral" ABC approach: Abstain, Be faithful in marriage,” sure, but “when appropriate, use Condoms." [And by all means, it would be a good idea if the powers that be modeled this for our young people, wouldn’t it?]

I’m hoping to hear more about this international issue from Kerry-Edwards during this campaign.

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