The L Files

Bono's boondoggle

His AIDS effort in Africa is increasingly adopting an abstinence-only message that is both ineffective and fatal.
Here's an interesting read from Radar magazine that offers a hard-hitting critque of U2 frontman's AIDS efforts in Africa. Bono, who is widely praised for enlisting the support of both the Bush administration and evangelicals, may have done so at the expense of the programs themselves:
(T)he U2 frontman’s coup is looking more and more like a pact with the devil. So far, we’ve spent $4.8 billion, less than a third of the total monies promised. And more insidiously, according to people in the field, every year a greater proportion of the funds earmarked for prevention are going to evangelically popular but ineffective abstinence-only programs, rather than, say, condom distribution. In fact, leading experts and newspaper editorial boards are slamming PEPFAR for what Stephen Lewis, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, has called "its obsessive emphasis on abstinence." Yet Bush’s conservative Christian base likely hears such anti-abstinence attacks as a heavenly choir. What’s more, this may be just what Bush intended all along.
The trouble started when our born-again president immediately tagged a cool $1 billion for abstinence-only prevention, triggering a Black-Friday-at-Wal-Mart-like rush to substitute God, prayer, and virginity for what actually works when it comes to lowering the continent’s staggering infection rates: programs focused primarily on partner reduction and free condoms. But HIV reduction plans, like everything else in the global free market, follow the money. "New 'faith-based' groups are popping up all over," one veteran AIDS educator in Nigeria said recently, "and have only to hang out a cross and a shingle to get PEPFAR money."
So, thanks to Bono’s good intentions, your tax dollars are fast depriving Africa of nearly every tool of effective prevention. As we spread our In God We Trust greenbacks we’re also spreading the fear of God and, ultimately, HIV. No matter the number of deaths PEPFAR’s treatment bounty prevents in the short term, its perversion of prevention will continue Africa’s current decimation into the next generation. In many countries a third of the population already has AIDS. Rates are even higher among soldiers. Life spans are plummeting, to as low as 33. Entire economies are starting to collapse, and some nations’ security is in serious trouble.[Radar]
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My only complaint about this article is its "war on terror" angle, mentioned in passing at the very end:
The irony is that America too, will have hell to pay. Millions of youths who have lost parents and grandparents to this plague are marking their coming of age with an HIV positive test result. Unschooled and unskilled, they’re already selling themselves as mercenary soldiers to rebel forces in countries like the Ivory Coast. The rebels there escaped PEPFAR’s “Come to Jesus” message. Many are militant Muslims, and like Osama, they have no love for us infidels.
It's as though the staggering human toll of this tragedy isn't quite bad enough -- we have to make it about saving our own ass.
Lakshmi Chaudhry is a senior editor at In These Times, and the former senior editor of AlterNet. You can write to her at [email protected].
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