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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Delusion-Based Global AIDS Policy

Not content with screwing up the United States, the religious right is reaching out to screw up the rest of the world. The Bush administration is probably more influenced by the christian right than any other presidency in history. A prime example is Bush's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which provides federal funding to 'faith-based' (i.e., religious) groups to provide community services. This funding goes to only one religion -- Office director Jim Towey admitted in 2004 that no funding has gone to a non-Christian group.

You'd think that getting handed money directly from the federal government would be enough, but of course it's not -- nothing less than a 'christian' foreign policy is acceptable to them. The problem is that there's a huge difference between 'faith-based' and 'reality-based' and the philosophy of the religious right allows them to ignore realities they don't approve of. For them, if the problem isn't addressed, then the problem doesn't exist. Take this piece from The Boston Globe:

For six decades, CARE has been a vital ally to the US government. It supplied the famed CARE packages to Europe's starving masses after World War II, and its work with the poor has been celebrated by US presidents. So the group was thrilled when it received a major contract from the Bush administration to fight AIDS in Africa and Asia.

But this time, instead of accolades came attacks. Religious conservatives contended that the $50 million contract, under which CARE was to distribute money to both secular and faith-based groups, was being guided by an organization out of touch with religious values.

Senator Rick Santorum , a Pennsylvania Republican, charged last year that CARE was ``anti-American" and ``promoted a pro-prostitution agenda." Focus on the Family, the religious group headed by James Dobson , said the agency that delivered the contract, the US Agency for International Development, was a ``liberal cancer."

The complaining paid off. CARE's $50 million contract is being phased out this year; it has been replaced with a $200 million program of grants that is targeted at faith-based providers, and overseen by USAID itself.

Why is CARE 'pro-prostitution'? Because it realizes that prostitutes exist and have sex for a living. By providing health care and condoms to prostitutes, CARE slows the spread of STDs in the third world. Santorum and Dobson see this as 'supporting' prostitution -- as if the only reason women become sex workers is because they'll get free health care and condoms. And what is the reasoning here -- that if the don't get CARE packages, the prostitution business will fold? As I said before, if the problem isn't addressed, then -- for Dobson and Santorum, at least -- it doesn't exist.

An anti-STD campaign that ignores prostitution is as effective as no campaign at all. They say that the only way to guarantee a halt to STDs is abstinence before marriage and monogamy within it -- but how on Earth can any program deliver universal abstinence and monogamy?

Obviously, it can't. But that doesn't stop Dobson's Focus on the Family from lying to make it seem like it does. Take this snippet from Dobson's website:

Uganda's ABC program—(Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms when necessary)—fights AIDS without compromising principles. [Sen. Tom] Coburn and others want this to be the standard for international programs.

"Uganda is the only country on the planet that has turned around HIV and prevalence rates," said Linda Klepacki, Focus on the Family Action's analyst for sexual health. "So we want to look to a country that has actually done the turning around and see how it did it. Researchers have found that the changing of behaviors was the number one reason they were able to change the rate of HIV infection. Uganda truly did a full-court press when it attacked HIV—they tapped every resource to stop it."

They're right, ABC worked great -- until the US stepped in and screwed it all up. Before Bush put restrictions on Uganda's funding, ABC stood for 'Abstinence,' 'Be faithful,' 'use Condoms' -- not 'condoms when necessary'. The emphasis shifted from all measures equally to 'C' as a last resort. The prevalence of AIDS in Uganda continued to fall, but the reason for the decline shifted from prevention to mortality. The Uganda success story has been turned into a public health disaster.

Washington Post, 2005:

Abstinence and sexual fidelity have played virtually no role in the much-heralded decline of AIDS rates in the most closely studied region of Uganda, two researchers told a gathering of AIDS scientists here.

It is the deaths of previously infected people, not dramatic change in human behavior, that is the main engine behind the ebbing of the overall rate, or prevalence, of AIDS in southern Uganda over the last decade, they reported.

The findings, not yet published, contradict earlier evidence that attributed Uganda's success in AIDS prevention largely to campaigns promoting abstinence and faithfulness to sex partners. Much of the prevention work in the Bush administration's $15 billion global AIDS plan is built around those two themes, and Uganda is frequently cited as evidence that the strategy works.

Ironically, emphasizing monogamy and abstinence had a less than desirable result. "...the fraction of men reporting two or more sexual partners in the previous year rose from 28 percent to 35 percent. The fraction of young men ages 15 to 19 who were not sexually active fell from about 60 percent to just under 50 percent. For women that age, the proportion not having sex remained at about 30 percent through the decade," the Times reported, "The median age of first intercourse for men fell from 17.1 to 16.2 years, and for women from 15.9 to 15.5 years."

The failures of Bush's -- and, by extension, the religious right's -- global AIDS policy are so egregious that earlier this year the administration was afraid to show it's face at a global AIDs conference in Toronto.

Think Progress:

Yesterday [August 14, 2006], 24,000 scientists, activists, and officials arrived in Toronto for the world’s “largest ever AIDS conference.” “[S]ome of the most important breakthroughs in the fight against AIDS have been announced” at these conferences.

But instead of engaging the global community on solutions, the Bush administration has decided to cut back its presence at this year’s conference because it can’t stand mild criticism:

Travel restrictions implemented by the office of the U.S.a Global AIDS Coordinator following the 2002 International AIDS Conference in Barcelona — at which former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson was booed by critics who believed the U.S. contribution to the Global AIDS Fund was insufficient — reduced the maximum number of HHS officials who can attend the conference by two-thirds, from more than 230 in 2002 to 50, according to HHS spokesperson Bill Hall.

The Bush administration’s “intensely ideological approach” to HIV/AIDS issues has stirred more resentment than hope among the activist community. The government’s “ABC” policy — “Abstinence, Be Faithful, and Use a Condom” — has been “criticized for excessively encouraging abstinence and marital fidelity,” with condoms demoted to “a last-resort option.”

The bottom line here is that 'faith' means belief in something for which there is no evidence. What the religious right seems to think is that 'faith' means belief in something for which there is contrary evidence. But that's better described as 'delusion'.

The Bush administration, the religious right, and their supporters aren't following a 'faith-based' policy, they're following a delusional policy. As they do in Iraq, they seem to believe that success is right around the corner and it'll all have been worth it in the end. The pile of bodies rises higher and higher and every body added is one more step toward success.

By casting the policy in a religious light, they've turned their religion into a religion of human sacrifice -- people die because of the administration's 'faith'.


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