Bush urges continuation of abstinence programmes

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US President has said that Congress should “stop the squabbling” over the requirement for no sex before marriage in some AIDS programmes in Africa.

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was created in 2003 and has increased the number of Africans receiving anti-retroviral treatment from 50,000 to 1.2 million.

However, by law one-third of that prevention funding must teach exclusively abstinence until marriage programmes.

PEPFAR funding supports various HIV/AIDS programmes, antiretroviral drugs, treatment, and prevention in fifteen focus countries, in addition to many other countries hard hit by the AIDS pandemic.

Congressional Democrats want to remove the abstinence requirement.

The current PEPFAR programme has disbursed $15bn (£7.68bn) over five years and is to end in September.

In June President Bush asked Congress to spend $30 billion over the next five years on PEPFAR.

The President is currently on a farewell tour of Africa, and at a press conference Tanzania he said that the current abstinence programmes are working.

“I understand there’s voices on both ends of the political spectrum trying to alter the programme,” he said.

“I would ask Congress to listen to leaders on the continent of Africa, analyse what works, stop the squabbling and get the program reauthorised.

“I happen to think the current policy is reasonable. After all, it’s working.”

A 2006 report from the US General Accountability Office (GAO) found that seventeen of the twenty countries surveyed reported that the abstinence earmark “challenges their ability to develop interventions that are responsive to local epidemiology and social norms.”

Furthermore, the GAO reported that in order to comply with the abstinence earmark, many countries were forced to significantly cut funding for prevention efforts to reach those most at risk, including programmes designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus.

In 2007, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) likewise criticised the abstinence earmark as well as the programme’s ban on funding needle exchange programs as obstacles to the programme’s effectiveness.