SEATTLE, WA – A review of surveys in 22 countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief spent about $1.3 billion to urge populations to abstain from sex until marriage and stay faithful to one partner showed no evidence the messages had any impact on behavior or HIV risks, findings from a study presented here this morning showed.
When Nathan Lo, a matter-of-fact medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine finished delivering the results of the study, he didn’t exactly get a standing ovation, but a series of audience members did stand to line up at the microphone, thank him, and to ask if he was surprised by the results. He hadn’t known what to expect, he replied modestly, because he had never before seen a study examining the impacts of the A and B of the Abstinence, Be faithful programs that the U.S. has been by far the largest funder of, and that until 2008 a third of HIV prevention funding was directed to by law.
The study looked for differences in responses to demographic and health survey questions on sexual behaviors in years both before and after PEPFAR began funding the programs and in countries where the programs took place, and in countries that did not receive that input. While people exposed to PEPFAR-sponsored abstinence messages might be expected at least to give answers that seemed desirable by those standards to when they first had sex, and how many sexual partners they had, their answers didn’t even reflect that the messages had even influenced them to that extent. Teenage pregnancy rates also indicated the messages had not led young people to postpone their sexual debuts.