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Sunday, September 04, 2005

This wonderful administration...

doing their best to increase the risk of AIDS everywhere.

Uganda became Africa's leader in fighting AIDS by waging an all-fronts war. In 1991, 15 percent of Uganda's adults were infected with the virus. Ten years later the figure was 5 percent. Ugandan officials achieved this drop by bringing the disease out into the open and encouraging people to protect themselves. President Yoweri Museveni called the fight "a patriotic duty." The government and a network of citizens' groups promoted abstinence, faithfulness and consistent condom use.

Now this balanced approach is tilting, and Ugandans will die as a result. The country still prescribes condoms for high-risk groups. But in the last few years, pushed by Washington, it has begun to emphasize abstinence only, for the general population. Washington is moving away from condom advocacy in all its overseas AIDS programs, but Uganda is the only place that this policy has been so fully embraced by the government. Last year at an international AIDS conference, Mr. Museveni gave a blistering speech attacking condoms. Meanwhile, his wife, Janet, has been condemning condom use as immoral and has called for a national census of virgins.

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Promoting abstinence and faithfulness has been crucial to fighting AIDS in Uganda. But so have free condoms. One of the highest-risk groups is young married women infected by straying husbands. For them, abstinence is not an option, and they are already faithful. They need to be able to protect themselves. Abstinence-only teaching does not work in the United States, and there is no reason to think it will work in Uganda.

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