<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

IX. Government Response

Human Rights Watch interviewed a number of government officials about the implementation of abstinence-only programs in Uganda and the wide range of objections to these programs.  Officials representing the offices of the president and first lady, together with representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ugandan Parliament, and the Uganda AIDS commission, spoke favorably of the country’s increasing emphasis on abstinence and being faithful as a way of preventing new HIV infections among youth. 

Some government officials expressed the view that abstinence-only programs did not and should not detract from providing information about other prevention strategies, and that a comprehensive strategy represented Uganda’s approach to HIV prevention.  This position was well summarized by Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, chairperson of Uganda’s Parliamentary Committee on HIV/AIDS, who said:

I support a balanced approach.  If everyone could abstain that would be fine, but not everyone can or will, so why not emphasize condoms instead of having young people go live [without condoms]?  Let us make every tool available for every program to have full and correct information available.  Unless someone brings information that talking about condoms increases sexual practice, than we shall promote condoms, too.254

Human Rights Watch asked numerous government officials if they were aware of research studies done in the United States that had discredited abstinence-only approaches or shown them to be potentially harmful.  No official was aware of the studies.  When asked how they would respond to the studies, some stressed that Uganda was a different society than the United States with different morals and values.  Research needed to be done on abstinence-only programs in Africa, they said.  Most agreed that the United States had been a strong driving force behind Uganda’s abstinence policy, and that certain U.S. policy makers had alerted decision-makers in Uganda to the supposed benefits of abstinence-only approaches.255

Asked whether abstinence messages were appropriate for all young people, even young people whose poverty, displacement, sexual exploitation, and orphanhood increased their risk of HIV/AIDS, officials responded that messages were individually tailored for the intended audiences.  One official said:

For prostitutes and others, we tell them to go ahead and use condoms.  Abstinence messages are for the appropriate sectors in society, for those who can strengthen themselves with these messages.  These messages are for those in school, those with both parents living who are going to be receiving higher education.256

Human Rights Watch also asked officials to respond to the objection that abstinence-only programs promoted stigma against people living with AIDS by implying that HIV infection resulted from “sinful” or “immoral” behavior.  A member of the Uganda AIDS Commission acknowledged that it was possible some people would feel stigmatized.  She added, however, that morality needed to be addressed in HIV prevention because, as she put it, some people who “lack morals” might pass the infection on to others who are “innocent.”257 

The concern that abstinence-only approaches undermined the promotion of condoms also failed to resonate with Ugandan officials.  A representative of the First Lady’s Office stated, “I have my rights too.  I am personally angry when I feel people are pushing condoms on me.  People who talk about abstinence believe in it.  We are offended by those organizations that promote condoms.”258

[253] Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, Mbarara, November 21, 2004.

[254] Human Rights Watch interviews, Beat Bisangwa, office of the first lady and Rose Kabugo, Uganda AIDS Commission, Kampala, November 16 & 22, 2004.

[255] Human Rights Watch interview, Beat Bisangwa, office of the first lady, Kampala, November 16, 2004.

[256] Human Rights Watch interview, Rose Kabugo, Uganda AIDS Commision, Kampala, November 22, 2004.

[257] Human Rights Watch interview, Beat Bisangwa, office of the first lady, Kampala, November 16, 2004.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>March 2005