How to Waste $1.4 Billion

Scientific American highlights a new study on the effectiveness of a $1.4 billion U.S. program to promote abstinence until marriage in order to prevent the spread of HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa. The program has proved inadequate, to say the least:

A rigorous comparison of national data from countries that received abstinence funding under the 2003 U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with those that had not showed no difference in the age of first sexual experience, number of sexual partners or teenage pregnancies—all aspects of behaviors that have been linked to a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV.

Who would push such a wasteful and inefficient venture? The same people who want to waste tax dollars on similar programs in the U.S.:

Responding to pressure from religious conservatives, the legislature mandated in 2003 that at least a third of PEPFAR’s prevention budget be spent on telling people to refrain from sex before marriage.

It’s difficult to deal seriously with sex-related issues until you acknowledge that people do, in fact, have sex. When you accept that reality, then you can start implementing effective preventive measures and practices. This study found that:

…the single most important factor associated with lower levels of risky behavior was the number of years women remained in school.

That’s right. Instead of advocating for a program that systematically hurts women, the best way to keep people from engaging in behavior with high potential for HIV transmission is to keep girls in school. (UNAIDS put forth a comprehensive guide expanding on and reinforcing this point.)

How about we spend $1.4 billion on that?

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