The AIDS ABCs For Africa

Aids in Africa
This Column was written by Kathryn Jean Lopez.
Elton John is furious at Bob Geldof for inviting the pope to one of the upcoming Live 8 concerts, organized to raise money for sick and starving Africans. What's the Rocket Man's problem with the pontiff attending the party? Condoms.

Sir Elton is peeved about the Vatican's longstanding position against artificial birth control, including condoms, considering it a slap in the face for those working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa.

In his estimation, "Banning Condoms Kills," as the abortion-advocacy group Catholics for a Free Choice stated in an ad campaign. And so the Catholic Church, according to the chattering class, is a major accomplice in the pandemic senselessly killing off African adults and orphaning their children.

In a story published right after Pope John Paul II died earlier this year, the British New Statesman proclaimed that he "did more to spread AIDS in Africa than prostitution and the trucking industry combined." F.Y.I., John Paul said: "fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside are the only sure ways to limit the further spread of AIDS infection."

Excuse my simplemindedness, but that seems like exactly the pill Africa needs. And you don't have to take the Vatican's word for it. Throwing condoms at the problem has simply not worked in Africa. Fidelity and abstinence, where it has been tried — most notably in Uganda — seems to give people a fighting chance, as it logically would.

Edward Green, senior research scientist at the Harvard Center for Population and Developmental Studies, is an expert on the "ABC" approach to AIDS prevention: "Abstain; Be Faithful; Use Condoms."

Don't have sex if you're not married; be true to your spouse if you are married; use a condom as a last resort as Green explains in his book Rethinking AIDS Prevention, Learning from Successes in the Developing World. Uganda has embraced this approach and the standout results present a model for attacking the African pandemic. Between 1991 and 2001, HIV infection rates went from about 15 percent to 5 percent. In Kampala, the country's capital, HIV among pregnant women dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent.

How? Uganda's president blanketing the country in ABC education. Premarital sex rates went down, for one — something Western elites rarely consider possible, here or abroad.

You mean education and behavior change might go further than Bill Gates airlifting condoms into Africa? Teach a man to respect himself and the women around him, and you might just be en route to putting a dent into a pandemic. And you don't have to be pope to realize that.