President-elect Obama to target abstinence-only programmes

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

After a meeting with President Bush in the White House earlier this week, Barack Obama has turned his attention to the changes he wants to make to US policy.

The President-elect, who will take office on January 20th, is rumoured to be considering up to 200 executive orders to overturn those issued by his predecessor on everything from the use of torture to stem-cell research and carbon emissions.

There will also be change in current policy that bars the US from funding organisations that offer or advise about abortion or offer sex education.

Susan Wood, Obama’s co-chair for women’s health advisement, told Bloomberg News.

“We have been going in the wrong direction, and we need to turn it around and be promoting prevention and family planning services and strengthening public health.”

In February President Bush 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 PEPFAR programme disbursed $15bn (£7.68bn) over five years and this year Congress approved a further $50 billion over the next five years.

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.