The United States spent 1.4 billion dollars on abstinence-only education as an effort to reduce the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa from 2004-2013. A study recently came out summarizing the findings of the United States’ attempts to reduce HIV in Africa and unsurprisingly, abstinence-only education seemed to be useless. It’s now been well-documented that abstinence only-education does not work.
The study did find that the more education the women had, the lower levels of risky sexual behavior they engaged in. It was also important to treat the infection in pregnant women so they cannot pass it on to their newborn babies.
So why would the United States spend so much money using a technique that has been shown to be ineffective? Well, in 2003, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) had a requirement that one-third of the money be allocated to abstinence-only education efforts. Thankfully, this has now been dropped, but it already wasted so much money and missed the opportunity to save lives.
The prevention efforts of this initiative are embarrassing and rage inducing. I just can’t stop thinking about how many lives could have been saved if we actually educated people about safe sex instead of just telling them to avoid sex altogether. The pressure from the religious conservatives to demand abstinence-only education for our country and initiatives in other countries has only resulted in wasted money and a lost chance to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Fortunately, all was not useless in the PEPFAR initiative. Other studies have found that the treatment part of the initiative have saved over a million lives through making anti-HIV medication available to those who need them. Hopefully our government learns to spend its money on prevention techniques that has actually been proven to work, not just throw money at useless programs to pander to the Religious Right.