British Medical Journal Questions Policies of Bush Administration on Reducing Spread of HIV

A recent study in the British Medical Journal adds to the literature which shows that abstinence based education is not a worthwhile use of government money. Previous studies showed that abstinence only based programs do not reduce premarital sex among teens. The British Medical Journal also examined whether there is an impact on preventing the spread of HIV, and found no benefit from abstinence only programs.

In an accompanying editorial, an editor of The British Medical Journal examined “fondly held assumptions” which are untrue but affect public policy. They call into question both the Bush administration’s spending on abstinence based programs and their efforts to prevent the distribution of condoms in Africa, which does reduce the risk of acquiring the HIV infection:

The debate over abstinence only programmes for preventing HIV should also be dead after this week’s systematic review by Kristen Underhill and colleagues (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39245.446586.BE). The review shows that they don’t seem to affect the risk of HIV infection in the developed world as measured by self reported biological and behavioural outcomes. In their editorial Stephen Hawes and colleagues bring this evidence together with the rather sparser evidence from the developing world to advocate programmes that promote condom use, which do reduce the risk of acquiring HIV (doi: 10.1136/bmj.39287.463889.80). This message matters more in the US, where some government funds for AIDs prevention can be used only for abstinence programmes. Here is some clear evidence for policymakers. Will they follow it?

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