U.N. Revelation

DOUGLAS A. SYLVA

The recent AIDS conference in Barcelona illustrates a simple point: The fight against AIDS is hostage to ideology, and people are dying as a result. Politics is being allowed to trump science even as millions of adolescents, especially those in Africa, continue to contract the disease.


The clearest indication of this came when speaker after speaker at the AIDS conference admitted that the "safe-sex" message has failed, yet refused to question the wisdom of continuing to promote it. In an ABCNEWS.com report, one of the scientists stated that "Despite their risky behavior, most young gay men were able to rattle off safe-sex guidelines as if they authored the pamphlets." A New York Times article on the conference registered shock that gay men in the U.S. — who have been the most thoroughly immersed in safe-sex rhetoric — were still engaging in risky behavior and were still contracting AIDS. But no one questioned the underlining legitimacy of the message.

The promise of the safe-sex gospel has always been that if we provide people with enough information and enough condoms, they will act responsibly. This has in turn led to a massive worldwide campaign of condom distribution, spearheaded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). But another U.N. agency, the Population Division, now admits that this campaign has not worked. In a report released before the conference, the Population Division bluntly asserts that "Much effort has been spent on promoting the prophylactic use of condoms as part of AIDS prevention. However, over the years, the condom has not become more popular among couples." The report goes on to claim that, despite widespread knowledge of AIDS and easy access to condoms, "Only a small percentage of respondents began using condoms to prevent HIV transmission. Fewer than 8 per cent of women in all countries surveyed reported that they had changed their behaviour by using condoms."

And, in the most shocking admission, the Population Division also concludes that the only significant behavioral change has been toward more monogamous relationships: "Among those respondents, whether male or female, who did change their behaviour, the most frequently cited change had entailed confining sexual activity to one partner."

It is not Pat Robertson saying this; it is not Jerry Falwell. The Population Division is made up of the U.N.'s chief statisticians. And they are admitting, in essence, that the billions of dollars spent to promote condom use have been wasted. Thanks to their research it is now also clear that — even with no money, no conferences, no encouragement from Elizabeth Taylor and Elton John — people in the world's poorest countries have begun to figure out that the only sure way to protect themselves is through abstinence.

On the basis of these revelations, it would certainly appear logical to shift some of the enormous amount of money spent on AIDS prevention into abstinence training. It would seem logical to spend some money investigating why people have changed their behavior, on what has worked within a sea of failure.

But no such calls emerged from the conference — rather than abstinence, there was a startling reaffirmation of the safe-sex gospel. The UNFPA representative in Barcelona even declared, "We know what to do, but we must do so on a broader scale." This was also heard from Bill Clinton and just about every other participant in Barcelona: We must redouble our efforts to reach every person, in every possible setting, with the safe-sex gospel. According to ABC News, the conference participants concluded that "messages need to be tailored to youth whether gay or straight, that they can relate to in places where they spend time and are likely to fall into risky behavior… Posters hung above urinals at popular bars could advertise safe sex and point out that condoms are available at the bar, for example. From there, parents, schools, employers and churches — any institution that is part of a social support network — should all convey safety messages." In other words: If we can only fully sexualize our culture, we may eventually render sexually promiscuous behavior safe. This sounds more like an erotomaniac's fantasy than the sober prescriptions of public-health officials.

There are many reasons for the willful blindness to reality. But the mention of churches is significant. The leaders of the AIDS movement are only willing to accept a response that dovetails with the sexual license promulgated in the 1960s and that finds ultimate expression in the free-love ethos of homosexual culture.

In fact, conference participants even claimed that if the safe-sex message has failed, it is only because the last remnants of our puritanical heritage have not yet been fully purged. In the words of one participant: "Our culture has difficulty talking about sexual issues, especially talking about pleasure. This translates to students as a lack of interest. It's not real for them, that's one of the things I am hearing frequently."

Perhaps the most telling evidence of this cultural and sexual agenda is the fact that the Catholic Church, which has official status at the United Nations, was not invited to attend the conference. The Church was barred from the event even though the U.N. acknowledges that it cares for over one-quarter of all the world's AIDS patients. Conference organizers decided to ignore the knowledge garnered through these treatment programs, however, because they knew that the Vatican would mention other things as well. "We do not understand why the Vatican was not invited," said Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán. He added that U.N. officials "have been saying the same thing [about condoms] constantly for the past dozen years," despite the fact that the safe-sex message has led to "no visible results." In fact, "the number of AIDS victims is rising." Perhaps it was for fear of heresies like these that Barragán was not invited.

And so the worldwide AIDS campaign lurches forward, promoting the same failed strategy it has always promoted. We will address the AIDS epidemic, but will do so only on our own terms. If we only pour more alcohol on the fire, so the logic goes, perhaps we will finally put it out.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Douglas A. Sylva. "U.N. Revelation." National Review (July 30, 2002).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Review. To subscribe to the National Review write P.O. Box 668, Mount Morris, Ill 61054-0668 or phone 815-734-1232.

THE AUTHOR

Douglas A. Sylva is director of research at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute.

Copyright 2002 National Review
 


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