Last week, a published health study revealed that the money spent pushing abstinence as foremost in reducing HIV/AIDS infections in Africa might have been wasted. The United States has reportedly spent a cumulative $1.4 billion between 2004 and 2013 in some African countries through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative.


Started by former president, George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama, PEPFAR adheres to the so-called ABC approach. The approach espouses abstinence until marriage, faithfulness to partners, and consistent condom use to discourage youth from becoming sexually active early, limit number sexual partners, and reduce teen pregnancy.




The aforementioned study, publishing in the Health Affairs journal, was co-written by researchers Nathan C. Lo, Anita Lowe, and Eran Bendavid from the Stanford School of Medicine.  The researchers compared health records from African countries that had received funding from PEPFAR with those that did not in the period 1998-2013. What they found was that promoting abstinence hasn’t been an effective way to reduce risk behavior associated with HIV in Africa and that it may even be causing more harm than good. However, this may not be news to those observing the effectiveness of programs that push abstinence in other parts of the world.


The study, which utilized surveys from 22 African countries, found that PEPFAR funding didn’t really make a difference in the number of partners people were intimate with or how early they started having sex. It claims to be the first study to analyze the impacts of PEPFAR’s funding of abstinence programs. The researchers hope that their work will highlight the difficulties in changing sexual behavior. The PEPFAR initiative is widely regarded as a success due to its provision of ARVs to millions of Africans living with HIV.  Lo, Lowe and Bendavid suggest that abstinence programs are diverting funding away from more effective measures. The majority of the world’s babies born with HIV/AIDS are African, which shows that more needs to go towards preventing transmissions between mothers and their children.


Should funds be diverted to other programs or should the abstinence-driven focus continue? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or reaching me on Twitter @rafeeeeta