Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Raw Deal

Nicholas Kristof of the NYTs has a poignant op-ed today on AIDS in Africa and the Bush Administration's unwillingness to develop a policy that works. First off, let's give credit to the Bush Administration for talking about the problem as well as financing some preventative programs. Undoubtedly, publicizing the problem helps garner donations from all over the world. That aside, the administration funds the least effective programs. As Kristof points out:
In theory, everybody agrees on how to prevent AIDS: the ABC method, which stands for abstinence, being faithful and condoms. But the Bush administration interprets this as ABc. New administration guidelines stipulate that U.S.-financed AIDS programs for young people must focus on abstinence or, for those who are already sexually active, "returning to abstinence."
Again we have the administration preferring ideology, or rather theology, to reality and it's once again costing lives.

But forget about the "Christian purity" aspect of the aid, because as Kristof demonstrates through Kera Sibanda, a women villager in Zimbabwe, abstinence or "returning to abstinence" isn't a possibility for married women.
Mrs. Sibanda is an educated woman and lovely English-speaker who married a man who could find a job only in another city. She suspected that he had a girlfriend there, but he would return to the village every couple of months to visit her.

"I asked him to use a condom," she said, "but he refused. There was nothing I could do."

He died two years ago, apparently of AIDS. Now Mrs. Sibanda worries that she and her beautiful 2-year-old daughter, Amanda, have H.I.V. as well.
As the article shows subtlely, married women don't have much status in many of Africa's patriarchal societies. If the husband doesn't want to where a condom, he won't. So much of this is an African problem and therefore the continent needs a women's rights movement so that females have a say in society and in the home. Nevertheless, there's more the U.S. could do to help: deprioritze abstinence, finance wider condom distribution and sex education programs, while helping to fund and create a mass-marketing campaign that inextricably ties condom use to stopping the ravages of AIDS.

Ironically, according to Kristof, there's one area where the Bush Administration does finance condom distribution: prostitution. Not surprisingly, it works. Yet, "the U.S. Center for Health and Gender Equity reports that in several countries, the U.S. is already backing away from effective programs that involve condoms."

If saving lives are what matters, U.S. aid shouldn't be tied to such theological strings, which places virtue over mercy to the detriment of innocent women and children like Mrs. Sibanda and her daughter, Amanda.

They deserve better.