God and the Fight Against AIDS

While Catholic and Protestant churches have long been on the
front lines in the battle against AIDS, conservative Evangelicals
— many of whom believe the disease is divine punishment for
homosexuality and promiscuity — have traditionally stayed on the
sidelines.

Since President Bush was elected — on promises to provide more
funds to faith-based groups — many conservative Christians have
begun to ‘change their tune,’ writes Helen Epstein in The New
York Review of Books
. It helps that of the $15 billion Bush
has allocated to fight AIDS globally, much will be directed to
church-affiliated organizations, with $1 billion earmarked for
abstinence-until-marriage programs.

As a result, blind faith in abstinence has taken hold in Uganda,
a country that was once the shining star of AIDS success stories in
Africa. HIV rates fell in Uganda during the 1990s from about 15
percent to some 6 percent. The key was a multifaceted set of
programs known as the ABC approach, which preached the benefits of
Abstinence, Being faithful, and using Condoms.

But Uganda is now ‘in the throes of a born-again Christian
revival,’ Epstein writes. The government has embraced the
abstinence tack and groups are scrambling to secure a piece of the
$1 billion pie.

That’s meant pushing aside condom programs, a trend worrisome to
those who believe prophylactics were a pivotal part of Uganda’s
success, and an abandonment of the ‘Be Faithful’ approach, which is
rooted in Uganda’s homegrown ‘Zero Grazing’ campaign.

Zero Grazing urged Ugandan men, who often have extra wives or
mistresses, not to stray. If they did, the policy cautioned, they
should at least avoid short-term encounters with prostitutes or bar
girls. ‘The genius of the Zero Grazing campaign,’ Epstein writes,
‘was that it recognized both the universal power of sexuality and
the specific sexual culture of this part of Africa, and it gave
people advice they could realistically follow.’
Hannah Lobel

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God and the Fight
Against AIDS

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