The African AIDS Crisis

In the fourteenth century, Black Death struck Europe, wiping out a third of the population. In the New World in the time of Cortez, smallpox killed 17 million Indians. Early in the twentieth century, the flu epidemic killed 30 million in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas. Today, a new and terrible epidemic – AIDS -- is ravaging Africa. If nothing is done, an estimated 55 million Africans will die an early death from AIDS by 2020. Now plagues have always been with us, but in the past, people could do little besides bury the dead and mourn. Americans, however, can do something about this modern plague -- and we must. You have heard me talk about this many times on BreakPoint. President Bush has correctly identified African AIDS as a humanitarian catastrophe of staggering proportions. His $15 billion plan to do so is both simple and sensible. Fifty percent of the money will buy treatment for the infected. Fifteen percent will fund care for the 11 million AIDS orphans, and 35 percent will support prevention efforts. Up until now, efforts to stem the tide of AIDS in Africa have focused on condom distribution and other so-called "safe sex" methods. But the African nation that has witnessed the most dramatic reduction in HIV infections took a different approach. Uganda has aggressively promoted an "ABC" prevention program that prioritizes: A: Abstinence; B: Be faithful, that is, monogamy; and only then, C: Condoms. Ugandans have responded to this campaign with a dramatic delay in the onset of teen sexual activity and a reduced number of sex partners among adults. The result? HIV infection rates have plunged from 18.5 percent in 1995 to 8.3 percent by the end of 1999 -- a whopping 50-percent drop in just four years. By contrast, African nations that promoted condom use alone and have the highest condom user rates on the continent also suffer the highest HIV prevalence rates. Condoms must no longer be treated as a panacea for HIV prevention. Now, we can expect to hear the same old naysayers complaining that the Bush plan is just another attempt by the "Religious Right" to impose its prudish morality, this time on suffering Africans. But it is not compassionate to continue to use so-called "safe sex" campaigns when they are failing, and when we know that a different line of attack will save so many lives. Surely liberals and conservatives alike can promote Uganda's program throughout the continent. Acting now is a moral imperative. But morally concerned citizens must also fight hard to make sure that America does not inadvertently give money to international groups that focus on condom distribution -- or that promote abortion. I have the president's assistants' personal assurance that the administration will not do this. In the coming days, we will be debating both military action in Iraq and the president's African AIDS proposals. Let us remember that great nations prove they are great, not merely through the might of their armies, but through the mercy of their hearts. Let's put politics aside and unite to fight this great plague of the twenty-first century -- taking mercy on "the least of these." For further reading and information: Read BreakPoint's fact sheet on "A Responsible Approach to a Global AIDS Policy." Learn more about President Bush's HIV/AIDS initiatives. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Politics of Abortion Delays $15 Billion to Fight Global AIDS," New York Times, 6 March 2003 (free registration required). Cathleen Falsani, "Bono's American Prayer," Christianity Today, March 2003. "Unsafe healthcare 'drives spread of African HIV,'" Royal Society of Medicine press release, 20 February 2003. Catherina Hurlburt, "Saving Innocents: Ministries Reach out to Children Touched by AIDS," Family Voice, July/August 2001. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020723, "Missing an Opportunity: AIDS and Christianity."


Chuck Colson


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