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Failed AIDS policies

I’m here in Swaziland for almost a month. There is an insidious policy being pushed by ignorant people that has me hopping mad because it is killing so many people that I care about here. It may seem like a delicate topic to you on a “Christian blog,” but if we’re to care about …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I’m here in Swaziland for almost a month. There is an insidious policy being pushed by ignorant people that has me hopping mad because it is killing so many people that I care about here. It may seem like a delicate topic to you on a “Christian blog,” but if we’re to care about the poor, then we need to care about the things that kill them and make them miserable. So here goes:

Over here in Africa in
countries where the AIDS virus is killing nearly half of the population, a bad
strategy is a death sentence to millions. Swaziland and Botswana have the unfortunate
distinction of being #1 and #2 in infection rates in the world.
Swaziland is racing toward
extinction at 44% of the adult population infected and Botswana is not far

Once the AIDS virus gets rolling like this, only two
strategies have any success in reversing the trend, and one of them fails more
often than it works. I’m referring to the condom, the anti- AIDS method of
choice in Botswana. What makes this strategy so
bad is that it has a failure rate of between 12% and 21%. That is to say, men
using condoms get women pregnant an average of about 15% of the time. These are
about the same odds you have when you play Russian
roulette!  Condom advocates will say that they only fail in a small percentage of the times they’re used, but the problem is that people forget or get in a hurry.  So, any way you slice it, your failure rate is much higher.

But it’s much worse than that. When you consider that
women are fertile just 10% of a given month and are still getting pregnant 15%
of the time, you realize that the condom is virtually useless as a long-term strategy in preventing the
transmission of the HIV virus. In fact, over the long-term, the vast majority of those who use them
to protect against HIV will wind up contracting the disease!*

And what makes the condom as a preventative strategy
still more flawed is that people using them forget to bring them – you are never
going to train impetuous adolescents to do a good job of remembering and

Is it any wonder that in Swaziland and Botswana – where governmental
authorities and NGOs have so completely committed to this strategy that they
distribute them at their immigration counters when you come into the country and
hand them out at schools – should lead the world in infection rates? The
correlation is one to one.

Why a product like this that has such a high failure
rate (resulting in the slow agonizing death of millions) hasn’t been targeted
for lawsuits by its victims is beyond me, but it will probably happen.

People like Bono tout Anti-retroviral drugs, but such
drugs just prolong life for those
who have it (which is wonderful for them) and may actually exacerbate the pandemic
by keeping more carriers of the virus alive, people who then continue to spread
the disease. Bottom line: ARV drugs are a palliative, but not a cure.

So really we are left with just one strategy that has
been proved effective in the fight against AIDS, and that is

self-discipline! Self-discipline means
teaching young people to abstain from sex. Some will point to studies showing
the failure of abstinence programs in the US, but
all these studies prove is that the abstinence programs were ineffective in
teaching young people self-discipline.

The one instance where an entire nation summoned the
will to engage in implementing a strategy built on teaching self-discipline was
in Uganda and it was fabulously
successful. It was a plan led by Jesus – followers. It dropped the infection
rate from about – (I didn’t fact check this, so someone please help me) 21% to 5%.**

AIDS will continue to spread around the world until
people stop trying to take short cuts around the only strategy ever successful
against it: learning self-discipline.

*Yes, if you are going to have sex, it affords some protection; using one is better than not, but that is a terrible place from which to begin. If you apply the 15% condom failure rate over the other
90% of a woman’s cycle, the incidence of failure becomes very high. When countries commit to the strategy of “condomization,” they are
pushing their populations over a cliff. In Botswana, where they aggressively
teach young people to use them, it has greatly accelerated the incidence of

**The fact that Uganda’s strategy also incorporated
the use of condoms was not nearly so important as the emphasis given on teaching

Comments (10)

  • I check that statistic for you, Seth. You’re right…it went from over 20% to 6%. Some resources even claim it was as high was 30%. I haven’t read this whole page, but it seems like a good resource if people are wanting to read more about what happened in Uganda…..http://www.avert.org/aidsuganda.htm

  • Yeah, our South African friends told us that the condoms in Africa are made very cheaply (even more so than the USA) and only 1 out of 6 condoms work when used for the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Not a chance I would like to take. Yes, they need to hear about self-disipline…it is the best way of prevention. You are right…it made a big difference in Uganda. Man, do I miss the awesome Ugandan people. Be safe in Africa, Seth!

  • thanks, Amanda and Sarah. i’m in the land of slow internet where net surfing is hard to do. Africa is great, even as tough as these issues may be.

  • I wonder sometimes if the results of sin don’t, at times, become a common place acceptance. What I mean is that I think perhaps the deception has gone on for so long that people have gone beyond an issue of self-discipline (which is a key root) to believing they either have no choice or their choice doesn’t even matter. It is like they believe they have no self-will – they are, in fact, driven. It truly is a view of “slaves to sin”. When I think of you there Seth – you are life walking amongst death – you are the living example of freedom and a life set at liberty – and in turn you have yielded that life to Him.

  • I live at a Christian Camp in Michigan. Our Executive Director has developed a program called “Purity and Holiness.” The basic premise of the curriculm is not abstienance. I quote Bob Tissot (author): “Abstinence is about not doing something; purity is about being.” He recently came back from Africa where he was training Christian leaders in his curriculum. It has also been used in Russia and Jordan. Maybe an idea for these two countries. See http://www.blbc.com for more information.

  • Hey Seth, Hope all is well in Swazi! When I read your story here, or hear anything about AIDS for that matter, I think back to our time in Africa at the end of the World Race. I think back to a young lady, 10th grade, who looked into my eyes and told me she was HIV postitive. It’s heart breaking to see that statistics such as these are facing an entire continent. It’s imperative that more people get a correct understanding of the epidemic – the one that you promote in this blog. We can no longer stand to take the easy, lazy road on this issue. Africa can’t stand much longer if the truth isn’t told. Thanks for your blog. God Bless on your journeys.

  • Seth-
    I am not a regular reader of your blog, but have participated in two AIM trips in the past.

    While I agree with your emphasis on the need for self-discipline, and abstinence education, it seems your analysis of the issue fails to deal with other socio-cultural factors that play into the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    One particular issue I have is the role of women, and the power that they wield over their own sexual decisions. Often, women in developing countries do not have the social power to resist a sexual attempt by a male (both from within the family and from without) facing abuse and abandonment for refusing sex.

    Complicating matters, women are often dependent upon their husbands for their livelihoods, lacking the chance to provide for their families on their own. Interestingly, some of the most at-risk populations for HIV/AIDS are faithful wives of migrant workers (the wives stay faithful, yet the husbands have sexual relationships with other women while away at work).

    A message of self-discipline, abstinence, and responsible choices to these women falls on the ears of those who don’t often have the choice to make…

    What I am trying to say, is that while self-disciple and abstinence education are absolutely essential, and I don’t want to minimize that, there are other issues involved in the epidemic that need to be addressed. I believe that there is a need for a holistic approach, including the promotion of self-discipline and abstinence, as well as the use of condoms and the empowerment of women within the family and the culture in general. Maybe we shouldn’t be so hard on these “pro-condom” NGO’s and try to work with them to make their approach a little more effective…or maybe I’m just a silly idealist…

    These are just a few thoughts, glad to see the conversation going, let me know what you think!

  • I just wanted to comment on a few things; the first being the efficacy of ARV use in the prevention of transmission. The viral load of someone with HIV is directly correlated with their likelihood of passing the virus on to someone else. This is why someone can easily transmit the virus before seroconversion, the body has not yet responded to the viral presence and thus it is running at very high levels unchecked. On the flip side someone who is faithful to a medical ARV therapy could reach an undetectable viral load and thus be less likely to transmit the virus. Also, while abstaining is great, the reality of the situation is that it DOES NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE. The failure rate for condoms is 2-3% when used consistently and correctly it IS NOT A 1 in 6 efficacy rate and NOT Russian Roulette. Education can help people use condoms correctly. Morality is not to be dictated. Sexual feelings and awareness are a normal part of growing up, if we give our young people and people in general more information to make the choices that they are comfortable with, we empower them. Some of self discipline is the realization that your choices and beliefs are just that…yours and though they may be shared by many, they are not shared by most, and certainly not universal. By the by, the countries with the lowest transmission rates are those with the most liberal policies…check out the stats for Australia.
    Be Well.

  • Hannah has some good points and has obviously invested more hours in researching the issue than I have. The information concerning ARVs is important, though it should be noted that ARVs are a palliative and not a cure.

    At the same time, I have to say that this 2-3% failure rate figure only works on lab rats, not people. Real people forget. Real people get in a hurry. Real people get a false sense of security. We on the front lines of this plague deal with this every day of life. People who produce these stats need to go spend a month in a Swazi high school or hospital and see what all this exalted education about the condom has produced.

    Morality may not be dictated, but unless it is urgently taught, Swaziland will soon implode.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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