Christian program proselytizing while preaching abstinence-only and taking credit for Uganda’s declining HIV rates

This is a guest post by Skepticon volunteer Katie Hartman.

In recent decades, Uganda has seen an impressive shift in its HIV rates:

Uganda’s HIV prevalence steadily increased until about 1991, when it peaked at about 15% (30% among pregnant women in urban areas). It then turned sharply downward through the mid-1990s and reached 5% (14% for pregnant urban women) by 2001.

Public health experts have identified three key factors in the decline: early abstinence (the median age for initial sexual activity has risen), monogamy (Ugandans are reporting fewer sexual partners over longer periods of time), and condom use (which was practically non-existent before the early 1990s). Collectively, these are referred to as the “ABC” approach.

Not-so-shockingly, the Christian Post is happy to scrub that nasty little “C” right off the record:

Uganda is one of the largest success stories of the initiative, where government leaders are crediting the remarkable decrease in the HIV/AIDS infection rate – from 30 percent of the population to about six percent – to powerful faith-based abstinence programs like True Love Waits.

And let’s not forget that there’s nothing shameful about pushing Christianity into classrooms when you’ve got the government on your side:

Janet Museveni [Uganda’s first lady] persuaded Uganda’s minister of education to allow TLW material into the schools and opened many opportunities for the ministry to talk and teach students about abstinence for hours at a time.

Jimmy Hester, co-founder of True Love Waits, told The Christian Post how refreshing it is to see many schools in Africa open to hearing about not only the vital importance of abstinence, but about the life-saving power of the Gospel as well.

According to Sharon Pumpelly, a Southern Baptist missionary, ““Schools are very open to our presence and presentations. Non-Christian kids are also responding, and some are accepting Christ.”

But wait a minute: aren’t we forgetting a few things (see images below)?

Abstinence and monogamy are both important aspects to an HIV-reduction strategy – the Guttmacher Institute asserts that having fewer sexual partners may have contributed to Uganda’s success more than any other single factor. That’s important, but so is this: Ugandans who are sexually active outside of marriage have just as much of a right to their health as their peers toeing the fundamentalist line. There’s a lot more ground to cover – condom accessibility is still limited, and shortages continue to plague the regions where health workers have attempted to distribute them freely.

Attempts by religious leaders to reduce access to and knowledge about condoms are nothing short of malicious, and the secular community should continue to bring attention to the harm they cause.

In a screed titled – I kid you not – “Case Against Condoms: Death by Latex,” Human Life International’s Director of Research writes:

Saying that passing out condoms does not increase sexual behavior is kind of like saying that passing out cars and keys does not increase driving behavior.

This PhD apparently thinks that condoms are what make sex accessible to teens. I would challenge the brilliant minds at HLI to drive a car without keys and a car – I think they’ll find it a lot more difficult than having pre-marital sex without a condom. A better comparison would replace “cars and keys” with “seatbelts,” but such a statement would draw attention to the true motivation behind these ideologues: using safety as leverage for coercing obedience to Christian doctrines.

I suspect that all of us are more than a little weary of the war on contraception, from the Pope’s infamous condemnation of condoms to the American Life League’s “The Pill Kills” campaign. But let’s remember that this battle is worth fighting.