Did USA PEPFAR's $1.4 billion succeed in curbing HIV by promoting abstinence?

The money was part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It went to sex ed classes and public health messages in Africa. Effective or not? A new study offers a clear verdict.

In the past 12 years, the U.S. has spent more than $1.4 billion funding abstinence programs in Africa. They're part of a larger program — called the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — aimed at stopping the spread of HIV around the world.

Many health officials consider PEPFAR a success. It is credited with giving lifesaving HIV drugs to more than 5 million people and preventing nearly 1 million babies from getting HIV from their mothers.

But a study, published Monday in Health Affairs, finds the abstinence programs have been a failure.

Fourteen of the countries in the study had received funding from PEFPAR between 2004 and 2013. Eight of the countries hadn't.

The results were clear: PEPFAR funding wasn't associated with changes in young people's choices about sex. Bendavid and his team could find no detectable differences in the rates of teenage pregnancies, average number of sexual partners and age at first sexual intercourse in countries that had received PEFPAR money compared with those that hadn't.


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