Hearing a ghost: NPR, HIV-AIDS, ABC and God

uganda_aidsIs it possible to spot a God-beat ghost while listening to the radio? While driving in rush-hour traffic on I-95?

In this case, I think so.

I heard a fine National Public Radio report this morning by Brenda Wilson about an article in the journal Science covering the success of Uganda’s programs to fight HIV-AIDS. To hear the story (if you have the right software), click here.

Everyone agrees that Uganda has been much more successful than similar African nations in cutting the spread of AIDS. But why is this the case?

The news is that Uganda is doing more than offering basic education programs that include the use of condoms. Uganda created its now famous ABC program — which stands for “abstinence,” “be faithful” or use a condom.

And the ghost? The NPR report emphasized that Uganda had taken advantage of the power of “social networks” to spread a message of warning that encouraged young people to abstain from sex and adults to limit the number of their sexual partners. These person-to-person contacts continued through “support clubs” for those who have had HIV-AIDS tests.

I was struck by that rather vague, ghost-like term “social networks.”

Based on other information I have read about this issue, it seems that a high percentage of those “social networks” actually have names. They are called churches and mosques.

You would expect the religious element of this controversy to receive attention in reports by the cultural conservatives who work at the Family Research Council, Crosswalk.com and CatholicEducation.org. But the role of religious institutions was also highlighted in a United Nations report on the Uganda AIDS Control Programme, which included this material from its acting director, Dr. Joshua Musinguzi.

(The) ACP used drama groups, schools, churches, mosques and community-based organizations to help spread the word on AIDS. “Because of our openness about it, the challenge of AIDS became the concern of everybody. Churches, mosques, schools, the army, and even private companies initiated their own programmes to handle the problem,” he said.

So what is the controversy? Part of the problem is that discussions of the Uganda program have become ensnared in American politics, where the battle lines have been drawn between the religious left and the right, between those who preach condoms and those who preach abstinence. The NPR report argues that the reality on the ground in Uganda is more complex than one or the other.

But, clearly, those “support networks” are doing a good job of spreading the word about abstinence.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    About the “ABC” term.

    A couple of years ago, the great Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami made a documentary about AIDS orphans in Uganda called ABC AFRICA.

    The film has only one allusion to the “ABC” of its title, and that is an unexplained T-shirt with the embroidered letters “ABC” on the chest, being worn by a year-old orphan being adopted by a European couple.

    I liked the film quite a lot and so read a lot of reviews of it — I don’t recall one that referred to the meaning of “ABC” in the title. I don’t know whether I was more hacked at the reviewers for their ignorance or incuriosity or at Kiarostami for never (to my recollection at least) explaining his own title.

  • http://political_data.blogspot.com gerald berke

    I think it is obscene that this ABC program is not celebrated and put into wide practice and Uganda is not held up as an example of real success and ingenuity in Africa.

    Success in Africa!

    Why is this ignored?

    I leave the answer as an exercise for the reader.

    For extra credit, where is the president on this issue? the Pope?

  • http://political_data.blogspot.com gerald berke

    I think it is obscene that this ABC program is not celebrated and put into wide practice and Uganda is not held up as an example of real success and ingenuity in Africa.

    Success in Africa!

    Why is this ignored?

    I leave the answer as an exercise for the reader.

    For extra credit, where is the president on this issue? the Pope?

  • James Warren

    I agree with Mr. Berke, the success in Uganda has not been shouted from the roof tops I believe because of the humbling position it puts our country in. The fact that a third world country got it together before us is humbling to say the least. We cannot allow politics to keep us from humbly imitating our African counter-parts. We should instead use our political power to get the message out as they did in Uganda. My only fear is that we will wait until it is too late to impliment this strategy and watch millions of people die. I am also afraid that we’ll continue to put time, focus, money and resources into the fight against HIV/AIDS that another deadly disease, HPV (Human Papillomavirus or Genital Warts) will creep up on us if we’re not careful. A disease which condoms have be proven ineffective against.