Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Uganda leads new pro-abstinence call midst some controversy

Martin  Ssempa, CEO

The Global Center for Uganda’s ABC Strategy writes:


Global AIDS activists have declared 2006 the year to fight abstinence stigma as a means of controlling new infections of HIV/AIDS. Announcing the first annual “direct HIV/AIDS prevention theme,” Martin Ssempa of the Global Center for Uganda’s ABC strategy (CAWA/GCUABC) said that many activists were disappointed, even angry that 20 years into the infection, bodies who set the world AIDS day theme had not seen fit to issue a single campaign theme which would directly address the role of abstinence and even being faithful in AIDS prevention! Twenty years is too long to wait for someone at UN to get over their bias of abstinence and marriage.


For many young people between 15-24 years the greatest challenge in prevention is the overwhelming stigma that surrounding abstinence. Abstinence stigma is endemic in HIV/AIDS policy makers, donors, western program implementers and even some misguided persons with HIV/AIDS. In Southern Africa boys and girls who are virgins or sexually abstinent are being systematically raped by Persons with AIDS (PWA) in the vain hope of a miraculous cure! Instigated by some traditional healers, many young kids have been exposed to HIV/AIDS because of this violence against abstinence. It’s time to break the silence.


In many schools virgins and abstinent youth are teased, sexually harassed and sometimes directly persecuted. They are perceived as losers and unpopular in society.  A recent report by ACFODE, “The situational review of rape, sexual harassment and defilement 2005” shows that there is widespread bias and stigma attached abstinence and virginity which is fuelling sexual harassment and molestation of youth especially in boarding schools. The systemic neglect of protection for those who choose to abstain is a denial of basic human rights and is leading to new HIV infections.


Globally, the stigma and discrimination young people constantly face in the media is also increasing their vulnerability and fuelling new HIV/AIDS infections.  Musicians, filmmakers and influential sources of content continue to marginalize, misrepresent and hold prejudiced attitudes towards abstinence.  This is the year to break the silence on this stigma. Silence for young people means death!


Teaching young people to abstain but doing nothing about the environment around which sexual decisions are made has been self-defeating. Teaching about the dangers of risky sexual behaviors without dealing with the systems which entrench and perpetuate them is detrimental to prevention efforts.  Twenty years into the epidemic, there is widespread agreement that abstinence and being mutually faithful in marriage are the most important elements in AIDS prevention for the youth and indeed all people. A statement to this effect was published in the world’s leading medical journal in 2004 and endorsed by 160 scientists. Yet abstainers are often stereotyped as geeks while abstinence educators are often unjustly portrayed as weirdo Martians from outer space. This judgmental bias is responsible for creating a hostile social environment, which is fuelling new HIV/STD infections.


This year AIDS prevention activists would like to complement the world AIDS day theme with a direct global behavior change prevention theme of “Stop AIDS, Fight Abstinence Stigma.”  This stigma is causing internal shame and rejection. This is putting young people at greater risk of risky behaviors. We therefore agree with Dr. Peter Piot that “AIDS is an extra ordinary disease, which requires extra ordinary response”. This should not only be in advocating for condom needs or gender rights only. This extra ordinary response is urgently needed to support the many young abstainers who are at immediate risk of new HIV/AIDS infections.


We call on UNAIDS to review its policies especially the UNGASS and begin to put abstinence at the center of the global response in preventing AIDS among young people. The entire UNGASS declaration totally marginalizes abstinence and does not even mention the word marriage or virginity! You need a magnifying glass to find the word abstinence which is only mentioned ONCE compared to human rights and drugs which are both mentioned eleven times! This omission of abstinence is discouraging and a betrayal to the millions of children who depend on this strategy for survival.  We call on UN secretary general Koffi Annan to immediately rectify this anomaly by appointing a global goodwill ambassador of abstinence in preventing AIDS who will act as a role model for young people who are abstaining.  It’s time to stop marginalizing abstinence. We call on all AIDS providers to review their current strategic frameworks, budgetary and policy plans to ensure that all forms of abstinence bias and discrimination are eliminated.


We call on Pres. George Bush’s PEPFAR initiative to directly address the issue of abstinence stigma in its programming.  We call on all AIDS activists young and old to break the silence of the abstinence stigma by documenting the cases of discrimination and confront the biased structures that entrench this stigma. We call on all providers to declare 2006 the year to break the Shame. Indeed as a global community we need to come up with creative ways to celebrate and infuse pride into abstinence. No child should be made to feel bad for doing the right thing.


Finally we call on all AIDS prevention activists to declare October 2006 as the month for a global 30 day “Break the Shame “campaign to highlight and eliminate all forms of abstinence stigma. We want to see a world where no child is made to feel bad for protecting themselves from HIV/AIDS by doing the right thing!


Contact: Pr. Martin  Ssempa, CEO

The Global Center for Uganda’s ABC Strategy.

Plot 56 Makerere Hill Road

Box 21007, Kampala, Uganda

East Africa.

Email: Ssempa@aol.com