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17551: Lemieux: AP: U.S.-backed abstinence campaign rings hollow in Haiti (fwd)
From: JD Lemieux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Published December 14, 2003
U.S.-backed abstinence campaign rings hollow in Haiti
Some say providing jobs to poor country would reduce the
incidence of AIDS.
By Paisley Dodds
Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Hanging above crumbling streets,
the giant blue banners urging Haitians to abstain from sex
dwarf the tattered signs for Pante, the Caribbean nation's
The abstinence message, financed by the U.S. government, is
getting mixed reviews in this impoverished nation where
earthly pleasures are scarce and HIV has infected 5 percent
of the 8 million people.
"When the lights go out in Haiti, people have sex," said
James Picard, 25, an AIDS educator. "And if you know
anything about Haiti, the lights go out often."
Although HIV infection has leveled off in some age groups,
it is increasing among Haitians ages 15 to 24. The country
is one of the hardest hit in the Caribbean, whose AIDS rate
is second only to sub-Saharan Africa. At least 30,000 of
the nearly 25 million AIDS deaths around the world have
been in Haiti.
Supporters of the abstinence campaign say Haiti can learn
from Uganda. The East African nation lowered its rate of
infection from 15 percent to 5 percent after an "ABC"
campaign promoting "a" for abstinence, "b" for "being
faithful" in a monogamous relationship and "c" for condom
But Uganda's economy is growing 5 percent a year, and it
has high literacy and a stable government. Half of Haitians
are illiterate, most are jobless in a shrinking economy,
and the president's policies have caused international
donors to suspend aid.
"In Haiti, we cannot work with the government," said Lester
Munson, chief of staff for the Global Health Bureau of the
U.S. government's Agency for International Development. "In
Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was very committed
publicly to fighting AIDS. In Haiti, it's more
Since flawed legislative elections in 2000, Haiti has been
locked in a political impasse, with President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide losing support at home and coming under increased
pressure from international donors.
With just $130 million in assistance flowing into Haiti
this year — $70 million of it in U.S. aid funneled to
private groups — critics are asking whether money being
used to promote abstinence could be better spent helping
Haitians out of their deepening misery.
"There are only a few pastimes we can still enjoy here,"
said Wilner Cenulus, a 29-year-old Haitian. "If they want
to cut down on AIDS, then they should help us with jobs."
President Bush signed legislation in May for a $15 billion,
five-year AIDS package for medical treatment, abstinence
promotion, provision of condoms and other prevention
programs in 15 African and Caribbean countries.
It earmarked about $900 million alone to promote abstinence
in those countries. U.S. officials say that previously aid
money for promoting abstinence wasn't broken out separately
and they have no estimate on much has gone to the campaign
In Haiti, the campaign is aimed at children.
"I try to tell girls they should wait, and if they wait,
they have less chance of getting pregnant or getting AIDS,"
said Jasmine Pomond, 19, a volunteer promoting the ABC
campaign. "Before, when groups would only talk about
condoms, kids used to think it was OK to run out and have
But the talk of abstinence often ends in a talk about
"How many of you know someone who has died of AIDS?" an
AIDS worker, Polyana Domond, asked to an eruption of tiny
hands at a session put on by the U.S.-funded Population
She grasped a wooden penis and ripped open a condom,
counseling: "Abstinence is the best way to prevent AIDS.
But if you have to have sex, do it with a condom."
"I started having sex when I was 10," another volunteer,
Johnny Gaspard, 19, told other volunteers. "Since it's too
late for me to practice abstinence, I just make sure I go
out on the field with my socks on!" he quipped in a joking
reference to condoms.
In a country where many girls start having sex at 13 and
boys at 12, abstinence may be a tough sell — but condom use
Last year, 14 million Pante condoms — pronounced "Pahn-TEH"
in Creole — were sold, up from 12 million in 2001 and 10
million the year before, said Paul Hamilton of Population
Services International. Sales were also up for female
condoms, especially among prostitutes whose numbers have
skyrocketed as poverty deepens, he said.
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