GWB: Promoting HIV One Missing Condom At A Time genre: Gaylingual & Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

Unlock The Condoms

I've written about the Bush administration's HIV/AIDS efforts in Africa a number of, here, here, and here...and while I applaud the expanded funding that have been committed to that effort, one cannot ignore the fact that a significant portion of the money is being spent to affirm a view of morality held by the President and his evangelical supporters...despite evidence that the money spent on promoting abstinence only is leading to added infections.

Michelle Goldberg offers the latest view on the controversial abstinence only program...a program that requires that a full third of all prevention funding be exclusively for that effort.

Frankly, I can't state it any clearer than this...the ideology of religious absolutism and the fanatical adherence to such dogma is going to kill people in Africa. As such, one can only conclude that we have now reached the point at which "compassionate conservatism" has completed the natural journey of absolutist has granted itself status as judge, jury, and executioner.

Further, as is often the case when this happens, there is no limit to the efforts to manufacture facts in order to support the beliefs and actions of those who are blinded by their need to affirm that they are right and that they are doing the work of their god.

NAIROBI, Kenya -- On July 5, Beatrice Were, the founder of Uganda's National Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, stood before hundreds of other HIV-positive women in Nairobi's vaulted city hall and denounced the Bush administration's AIDS policies.
Like many in attendance, Were contracted HIV from her husband, a common occurrence in a region where women make up the majority of new infections and marriage is a primary risk factor. For those like her, the White House's AIDS prevention mantra -- which prescribes abstinence and marital fidelity, with condoms only for "high risk" groups like prostitutes and truck drivers -- is a sick joke.

"We are now seeing a shift in recent years to abstinence only," she said. "We are expected to abstain when we are young girls and to be faithful when we are married to men who rape us, who are not necessarily faithful to us, who batter us." The women in the audience, several waiting to share their own stories of marital rape, applauded.

Were exhorted her audience to "denounce programs that are not evidence-based, that view AIDS as a moral issue, that undermine the issues that affect us, women's rights. I want to be very clear -- the abstinence-only business, women must say no!" Again, there were hollers and applause.

I find the sanctimonious and arbitrary indifference to scientific evidence the equivalent of the Catholic Church's unwillingness to acknowledge the clear and calculated murder of Jews during the Holocaust. In fact, it may actually be worse given the fact that while the Church may have sat on its collective hands, the Bush administration is actually participating in a practice that leads directly to unwarranted and unnecessary deaths. That is inexcusable.

In her brilliant new book, The Invisible Cure: Africa, The West, And The Fight Against AIDS, Helen Epstein shows what some of the ideologues' policies have meant on the ground.

Epstein, who has a background in biology and public health, argues that people in East Africa, where the spread of AIDS has been especially catastrophic, don't have more partners over a lifetime than people in other regions, but they are more likely to have simultaneous long-term relationships. Citing the work of the sociologist and statistician Martina Morris, she writes that concurrent liaisons "are far more dangerous than serial monogamy, because they link people up in a giant web of sexual relationships that creates ideal conditions for the rapid spread of HIV."

Uganda's initial response to AIDS addressed this, and urged partner reduction, or "zero grazing," which was not the same as abstinence. Condoms played a role as well. "HIV infection rates fell most rapidly during the early 1990s, mainly because people had fewer casual sexual partners," Epstein writes. "However, since 1995, the proportion of men with multiple partners had increased, but condom use increased at the same time, and this must be why the HIV infection rate remained low."

Yet in a grotesque irony, PEPFAR funding has refashioned Uganda's anti-HIV campaign to fit the distorted notions of American conservatives (and their allies among Uganda's evangelical revivalists, who include First Lady Janet Museveni). "The policy is making people fearful to talk comprehensively about HIV, because they think if they do, they will miss funding," says Canon Gideon, an HIV-positive Anglican minister from Uganda who has been a leader in the clerical response to the epidemic. "Although they know the right things to say, they don't say them, because they fear that if you talk about condoms and other safe practices, you might not get access to this money."

Today, Uganda's infection rate is once again rising.

A few weeks before I came to Kenya, I spoke with Stephen Lewis, who until last year was the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa. I asked how he understood the balance between the harmful and the helpful aspects of Bush's AIDS initiative. "It really is difficult to quantify," he said. "The only thing one can categorically say is that the overemphasis on abstinence probably resulted in an unnecessary number of additional infections." That this policy is celebrated as Bush's greatest moral achievement shouldn't be understood as praise.

Note what UN Envoy Lewis is actually stating...he is clearly arguing that the President's actions may be consistent with his moral imperatives (religious dogma), but those imperatives are going to kill more Africans...and that certainly deserves no praise.

I'll offer one other observation that further demonstrates the degree to which fanaticism knows few, if any, limits. The latest polling on the approval of the President is, by any measure, dismal...some of the worst for a sitting president. Nonetheless, he still has the support of slightly less that 30 percent of the American public.

I'll suggest that those individuals share one key affinity with George Bush...they remain committed to imposing their notions of morality and their version of theology upon the whole of the United States...and they have a cavalier disregard for all those they deem to function outside of their moral cavalier that the lives of fellow human beings have become expendable consequences of their "Christianist crusade".

Daniel DiRito | July 10, 2007 | 12:45 PM
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