Defeating Ignorance, AIDS and Teen Pregnancyby
A Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report released in February revealed that more than nine in 10 Texas school districts teach students nothing about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention when it comes to sex except for abstinence-only-until-marriage. One of the most common strategies in abstinence-only curricula, the study’s authors found, was wildly exaggerating the failure rate of condoms as a way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The goal of those programs, of course, is to persuade students that the only way to protect themselves is is through abstinence.
Countless medical studies have shown this approach to be fear-mongering fiction, not responsible education. Now we have another example — the fight against AIDS in Haiti:
In the early 1980s, when the strange and terrifying disease showed up in the U.S. among migrants who had escaped Haiti’s dictatorship, experts thought it could wipe out a third of the country’s population.
Instead, Haiti’s HIV infection rate stayed in the single digits, then plummeted.
In a wide range of interviews with doctors, patients, public health experts and others, The Associated Press found that Haiti’s success in the face of chronic political and social turmoil came because organizations cooperated and tailored programs to the country’s specific challenges.
Much of the credit went to two pioneering nonprofit groups, Boston-based Partners in Health and Port-au-Prince’s GHESKIO, widely considered to be the world’s oldest AIDS clinic.
“The Haitian AIDS community feels like they’re out in front of everyone else on this, and pretty much they are,” said Judith Timyan, senior HIV/AIDS adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Haiti. “They really do some of the best work in the world.”
Researchers say the number of suffers was initially lessened by closing private blood banks, and statistically by high mortality rates — an untreated AIDS sufferer in Haiti lives eight fewer years than an untreated American.
Well-coordinated use of AIDS drugs, education and behavioral changes such as increased condom use have kept the disease from surging back, at least for now.
Meanwhile, education campaigns spread the word on prevention measures. More than 51 million free condoms have been shipped to the country of since 2004 and are advertised everywhere on street murals and corner store signs. (emphasis added)
“More Haitians know about modes of transmission than high school students in the U.S.,” Pape said. (Dr. Jean W. Pape is co-founder GHESKIO.)
The article notes that Haiti still faces substantial hurdles in fighting AIDS, but ignorance isn’t one of them. On the other hand, in Texas — which has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation — keeping teens ignorant is the preferred strategy in most public schools. And religious-right pressure groups did a lot to keep that strategy in place during the last legislation session.