The Rev. Sam L. Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda’s National AIDS-Prevention Committee, writes in today’s Washington Post :
But will the money allocated for AIDS stop the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76 percent of the world’s HIV-AIDS deaths occurred last year?
Not if the dark dealings I’ve witnessed in Africa continue unchecked. In the fight against AIDS, profiteering has trumped prevention. AIDS is no longer simply a disease; it has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
In the late 1980s, before international experts arrived to tell us we had it all “wrong,” we in Uganda devised a practical campaign to prevent the spread of HIV. We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful. Our campaign was called ABC (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms), but our main message was: Stick to one partner. We promoted condoms only as a last resort.
Because we knew what to do in our country, we succeeded. The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002. But international AIDS experts who came to Uganda said we were wrong to try to limit people’s sexual freedom. Worse, they had the financial power to force their casual-sex agendas upon us.
PEPFAR calls for Western experts to work as equal partners with African leaders on AIDS prevention. But as co-chair of Uganda’s National AIDS-Prevention Committee, I have seen this process sabotaged. Repeatedly, our 25-member prevention committee put faithfulness and abstinence into the National Strategic Plan that guides how PEPFAR money for our country will be spent. Repeatedly, foreign advisers erased our recommendations. When the document draft was published, fidelity and abstinence were missing.
International suppliers make broad, oversimplified statements such as “You can’t change Africans’ sexual behavior.” While it’s true that you can’t change everybody, you don’t have to. If the share of men having three or more sexual partners in a year drops from 15 percent to 3 percent, as happened in Uganda between 1989 and 1995, HIV infection rates will plunge. It is that simple.
We, the poor of Africa, remain silenced in the global dialogue. Our wisdom about our own culture is ignored.
Telling men and women to keep sex sacred to save sex for marriage and then remain faithful is telling them to love one another deeply with their whole hearts. Most HIV infections in Africa are spread by sex outside of marriage: casual sex and infidelity. The solution is faithful love.
So hear my plea, HIV-AIDS profiteers. Let my people go. We understand that casual sex is dear to you, but staying alive is dear to us. Listen to African wisdom, and we will show you how to prevent AIDS.