HIV Prevention, Kenya-style

May 18, 2006

Today’s New York Times includes a fascinating article on the apparent successes of PEPFAR-sponsored and broader HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Kenya. Among the few countries in Africa that has been able to slow or reverse the trend of AIDS infections (the club also includes Uganda and Zimbabwe), recent evidence from Kenya shows that the number of new infections nation-wide has declined from an estimated 200,000 annually at its peak, to 90,000 today. The cause: the ABCs. Following the April GAO report on PEPFAR prevention programs (pdf) which found that the earmark mandating spending on abstinence programs was creating confusion among USG agencies in the field and in some cases inhibiting their ability to implement sound programs, this story seems to offer a different and hopeful perspective on the prevention debate. According to article:

“With United States financing, Population Services International, a non-profit group, is organizing abstinence clubs for 10- to 15-years olds here. PSI does not teach the children about condoms, but answers their questions. Terry Mathenge, 19, a PSI volunteer in a Nairobi school, said she answered directly when, for example, a 10-year old girl slapped by a parent for asking about condoms repeated the question at a club meeting.“It’s better to tackle it head on,” Ms. Mathenge said, adding, “Speak the truth and the truth will set you free.”But she also said abstinence was important. “In the past, the voice of condoms was louder than the voice of abstinence, and I’m glad that’s changing,” she said.Among those listening to her one recent afternoon in Nairobi was Michael Gerson, an evangelical Christian and a close advisor to President Bush. He told the young people assembled that the American debate was polarized between those who favored abstinence and those who said the promotion of abstinence was naïve. “It seems like you’re saying it’s neither,” he told Ms. Mathenge.”
Why is this seemingly obvious and simple lesson the hardest for us to learn?


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.