Earlier this year, the journal PLoS Medicine published a stunning report about the prevalence of AIDS in Zimbabwe. Over the ten years to 2007 HIV prevalence was halved. This decline is almost unique in sub-Saharan Africa.
Aha! you might say. Despite the disastrous state of its economy, Zimbabwe has been distributing condoms by the millions to bring down adult prevalence from 27 percent to 16 percent. But you would be quite wrong. It is not condoms which are saving the lives of thousands of Zimbabweans, say researchers, but changes in behaviour, “mainly reductions in extramarital, commercial, and casual sexual relations”.
In other words, it looks like abstinence and fidelity are the secret to turning around the devastating AIDS epidemic which has killed 30 million people and infected 33 million and orphaned 16 million children.
This report supports the thesis of the authors of the fascinating book Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS, Matthew Hanley and Jokin de Irala.
[…]Hanley and de Irala show that “primary behaviour change” is the best weapon for fighting AIDS, not “harm reduction”. In fact, the rapid spread of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, despite a thorough understanding of how it spreads and billions spent on risk reduction, is “one of the greatest failures in the history of public health”. The South African strategy assumed, for instance, that the spread of AIDS has little to do with sexual responsibility. Authorities there promoted condoms with a “have fun but play safely” campaign. The results have been disastrous. About 18 percent of men and women between 18 and 49 live with HIV/AIDS.
The AIDS bureaucracy is committed to technical fixes despite lip service to abstinence and fidelity. Condoms, voluntary counselling and testing and treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases are their strategies. All of these are effective to some degree, but they ignore mounting evidence that HIV transmission rates remain high despite widespread distribution of condoms. In Botswana, the authors point out, condom sales increased from 1 million in 1993 to 3 million in 2001, while HIV prevalence rose from 27 to 45 percent among pregnant urban women. Between 1990 and 2002 life expectancy fell by 30 years in Botswana, a decline “unprecedented in the history of the human race”.
Why don’t condoms work? It’s not a question of permeability or breakage, but of how they are used. For one thing, only consistent condom use is effective in warding off AIDS. Yet it appears that most men use condoms very irregularly. And the evidence is mounting that condoms actually promote risky sexual behaviour because users feel that they are protected.
The engine of the epidemic is multiple sex partners, a growing number of AIDS researchers believe. When people have stopped engaging in casual sex and participating in a web of sex relationships, as has happened in Uganda and Zimbabwe, AIDS rates have fallen dramatically.
Here’s the abstract from the paper:
There is growing recognition that primary prevention, including behavior change, must be central in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The earlier successes in Thailand and Uganda may not be fully relevant to the severely affected countries of southern Africa.
We conducted an extensive multi-disciplinary synthesis of the available data on the causes of the remarkable HIV decline that has occurred in Zimbabwe (29% estimated adult prevalence in 1997 to 16% in 2007), in the context of severe social, political, and economic disruption.
The behavioral changes associated with HIV reduction—mainly reductions in extramarital, commercial, and casual sexual relations, and associated reductions in partner concurrency—appear to have been stimulated primarily by increased awareness of AIDS deaths and secondarily by the country’s economic deterioration. These changes were probably aided by prevention programs utilizing both mass media and church-based, workplace-based, and other inter-personal communication activities.
Focusing on partner reduction, in addition to promoting condom use for casual sex and other evidence-based approaches, is crucial for developing more effective prevention programs, especially in regions with generalized HIV epidemics.
Government programs that basically try to take promiscuity as a given and then reshuffle wealth around to make the promiscuous avoid the consequences of their own choices. Why is that? Well, government bureaucrats would be out of a job if people behaved responsibly – they have every incentive NOT to solve social problems. The bigger the social problems, the more money they can collect in taxes. The more money they collect in taxes, the more they can play Robin Hood and get accolades from the public for their generosity. That is the real reason that people on the left, who love to feel as though they are solving problems for people by shuffling money around, oppose personal responsibility.