Latex Lies: Why HIV Won’t Go Away

A few months ago I had a series of email correspondences with a South African man over the reality and trajectory of humanitarian aid and interventions in Africa. And one of his emails to me was about the tragic failure of the condom-agenda in the face of HIV. I found this email so profoundly moving that I decided to share it (at least a portion of it) for us all to reflect on.

“Dear Uju…

I live in KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa – the province with (until recently) the highest rate of HIV transmission in South Africa, which has the highest rate of HIV of countries in Africa – and guess what? Every government Department and every Municipal office has free condoms everywhere – by the box load! You would think that people would eventually put 2 and 2 together!

While traditional communities celebrate chastity through their values and large cultural annual gatherings, the more “sophisticated” or “educated” are trying to impose their supposedly “more advanced” agendas, which are contributing to the breakdown of the most fundamental building blocks of society – our families!”

And after reading this, I asked myself: when will the rich donors listen to Africans? When will they concede the undeniable failure of their multi-billion dollar condom projects ? When will they count the graves of our people who have succumbed to HIV (contracted in needlessly reckless sexual behaviour)?

As the HIV infection became evidently epidemic in Africa about 30 years ago, some Public Health specialists were quick to come up with a model for prevention — the ABC approach:

A – Abstinence before marriage
B – Be faithful in marriage or to one partner
C- Condom use if A and B are impossible

HIV people 2The fascinating thing is that for a time in the epic battle against the epidemic, all major health organisations (including WHO) were in agreement that the most powerfully effective ways of squelching and eradicating HIV in Africa were the A and B approaches. According to them, the C approach was for the so-called ‘high-risk’ members of society (mainly sex-workers), people whose high-risk sexual behaviour could not easily be changed and who were bound to always have multiple sexual partners.

This ABC program showed great success, such as when it was launched in Uganda , a country with record high HIV infection rate in the general population. The number of young unmarried people having sex plummeted and so did the number of Ugandans reporting multiple partners. An impressive behaviour change was seen across the country.  And national HIV infection rates fell between 1992 and 2002, from 21 % to 6 %. A success story indeed.

But even with this documented success in Uganda , the international health and humanitarian organisations, at some unknown point, chose a different prevention model that would not require any sexual restraint or responsibility. The message went from ABC to CBA, with the condom becoming the most strongly emphasised point of the prevention model. Groups fell in line with the new priorities, and even UNFPA (a powerful UN organisation) launched a multi-million dollar annual campaign in Africa that they called the ‘Condomize Project’ (a name that I find rather appalling).

Against the parents’ values and wishes, these large and powerful organisations started pushing and promoting condoms in our African schools and institutions of higher learning. And while parents were not looking, their children were encouraged to become sexually active and then ‘condomized’ for their protection.

But in truth, they were never adequately protected by the condoms. According to the condom manufacturers themselves, the fact is that even with perfect use, condoms are only about 80% – 90% effective in preventing HIV transmission.

So in 80 -90% of all sexual encounters with a HIV-infected person, condom can prevent viral transmission. But what about the other of the encounters?! Not reassuring at all for an incurable disease.

But of course it’s even worse in reality. The guaranteed protection is completely dependent on “Perfect Use”, which is a term used in the medical and healthcare setting to indicate that a product has been used exactly and correctly as specified by the manufacturer.

In other words, the condom has to be used exactly right, and there is no margin for error. Any slippage, breakage or leakage (even in the slightest) would drastically reduce the guaranteed protection and put the users at risk. And in practice, we know that when it comes time to use a condom, Perfect Use is difficult if not impossible to achieve due to obvious distractions in the heat of the moment.

According to documented research, the portion of users in the African population who manage to attain Perfect Use with every single condom usage is alarmingly low and human error in usage has led to unbelievably high numbers of new HIV infections of people who decided or who were lured (by the condom-promoters) to hinge their protection on the latex . So as millions and millions of condoms are thrown at HIV in Africa, the virus keeps spreading, thriving, and killing our people.

The most unfortunate thing is that even with the mounting evidence of failure in the present prevention plan, the international organisations still adamantly choose to put less and less emphasis on the messages of abstinence and faithfulness. Instead, they have given all their efforts and attention to their condom projects, pushing and promoting the latex as the be-all and end-all of HIV prevention. And with their tireless promotion, the message of casual sex has been highly eroticised by some of the lurid literature tied to these expensive projects.

I guess we could say that with one hand they attempt to extinguish the consuming fire of HIV and with the other hand they stoke the fire of sexual immorality. And so the fire continues!

If you think I’m exaggerating, please check out the shocking booklet (available on the International Planned Parenthood Federation website) entitled “Healthy, Happy and Hot”. It is a 30-page guide put together by the IPPF particularly aimed at adolescents (single, unmarried adolescents), including and especially those living with HIV. This booklet was well-received and accepted by the United Nations, but I must warn that it is a direct incitement to unspeakable high-risk sexual behaviours. It is highly offensive, morally objectionable and, yes, only a blink away from being pornographic, made all the worse because it is aimed at the youth. And there are many others like it – lewd and brazen. All of these materials and programs are a part of a well-funded, passive aggressive move to weaken our moral values while disregarding all that we hold dear in our cultural and religious heritage.

Very tragic for us that in a bid to promote a Godless ideology and culture reminiscent of a sexual revolution , some of the rich donor organizations and countries have blindly inflicted much pain on Africa through their HIV “prevention” programs that have done quite the opposite of what they promised. So far, they have not helped Africans but have harmed us. They have not enriched but impoverished us. They have not strengthened but weakened us. They have not freed but shackled us. Tragic indeed!

So we beg them to count the graves of our people who have succumbed to HIV and reconsider their techniques and their prevention projects because real behaviour-change is still possible in Africa. With the right support and the right programs, the African youth would choose the better way of abstinence and fidelity. They will no longer hang their lives and future on the latex. Instead they will safely avoid the merciless clutches of HIV.

But this will not happen unless there is a renewed unanimous commitment to the ABC message.


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Obianuju Ekeocha is originally from Nigeria, but has for the past six years has been living and working in the United Kingdom as a biomedical scientist. Her work, including the recent "An Open Letter to Melinda Gates," has been published in The Catholic Herald UK and other Catholic news outlets. Obianuju is also part of Culture of Life Africa, an initiative dedicated to the promotion and propagation of the Gospel of Life in Africa through the dissemination of good information, sensitisation and education.

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