HIV/AIDS and Human Rights

Sample Letter to Ambassador Randall Tobias

Stop the Export of U.S.-Funded Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs

Ambassador Randall Tobias
US Global AIDS Coordinator
Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator
SA-29, Second Floor
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20522-2920

Dear Ambassador Tobias:

I am writing to express my extreme concern about U.S. funding for “abstinence-until-marriage” programs that withhold critical information about HIV prevention. As you know, the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act requires you to spend at least one third of budgeted, HIV prevention money on abstinence-until-marriage programs. Recent investigations have shown that these programs withhold information about safer sex, condoms, and the risks of HIV transmission within marital relationships—information that could save the lives of millions of young people in AIDS-affected countries throughout the world. I therefore urge you to promote legislation that would redirect this spending toward proven interventions that guarantee young people complete information about HIV prevention, including the use of condoms.

Abstinence-only HIV/AIDS programs have been proven to be ineffective and potentially harmful. By withholding or distorting information about any method of HIV prevention other than sexual abstinence until marriage, they violate young people’s human right to complete and accurate information about HIV prevention. In a recent Human Rights Watch investigation in Uganda, abstinence-until-marriage programs were found to censor information about condoms and other matters related to sexual health, to mislead young people about the risks of HIV within marriage, and to blend HIV prevention messages with moralistic teachings about marriage and family. These findings were consistent with previous investigations by Human Rights Watch and others about the implementation of abstinence-only programs in the domestic United States.

HIV/AIDS has killed some 25 million people worldwide. The vast majority of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa are caused by unprotected sex, with the largest percentage of new infections occurring among women and girls. Comprehensive HIV-prevention programs that combine abstinence messages with factual information about condoms and safer sex have proven to be more effective than those that preach “abstinence only.” As a leading donor to HIV/AIDS programs worldwide, the United States cannot afford to substitute unproven HIV-prevention strategies for those that have succeeded in reducing behaviors that put people at risk of HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately, the United States has already begun to send abstinence-only programs around the world, targeting their efforts at countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. I therefore request you oppose further funding for these programs, which put people at unnecessary risk of HIV infection and premature death. I also urge you to provide a full accounting of existing funding for abstinence-only programs, and to cooperate with requests by individuals or government agencies to make publicly available all information on these programs.

Yours sincerely,

cc: Andrew Natsios
Administrator, US Agency for
International Development
Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20523


U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Randall Tobias and Ugandan Primary Education Minister Geraldine Bitamazire discuss HIV/AIDS with Ugandan students, Dec. 5, 2003 (Photograph: Reuters).
U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Randall Tobias and Ugandan Primary Education Minister Geraldine Bitamazire discuss HIV/AIDS with Ugandan students, Dec. 5, 2003 (Photograph: Reuters).

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Facts at a Glance

Full Report: The Less They Know, the Better—Abstinence-Only HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda

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Human Rights Watch Researcher Tony Tate on U.S.-Funded, Abstinence-Only, HIV/AIDS Programs in Uganda
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