From Tue Jan 6 17:45:20 2004
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2004 16:07:58 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17551: Lemieux: AP: U.S.-backed abstinence campaign rings hollow in Haiti (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <>

U.S.-backed abstinence campaign rings hollow in Haiti

Some say providing jobs to poor country would reduce the incidence of AIDS

By Paisley Dodds, Associated Press, 14 December 2003

Port-au-Prince, Haiti—Hanging above crumbling streets, the giant blue banners urging Haitians to abstain from sex dwarf the tattered signs for Pante, the Caribbean nation’s best-selling condom.

The abstinence message, financed by the U.S. government, is getting mixed reviews in this impoverished nation where earthly pleasures are scarce and HIV has infected 5 percent of the 8 million people.

When the lights go out in Haiti, people have sex, said James Picard, 25, an AIDS educator. And if you know anything about Haiti, the lights go out often.

Although HIV infection has leveled off in some age groups, it is increasing among Haitians ages 15 to 24. The country is one of the hardest hit in the Caribbean, whose AIDS rate is second only to sub-Saharan Africa. At least 30,000 of the nearly 25 million AIDS deaths around the world have been in Haiti.

Supporters of the abstinence campaign say Haiti can learn from Uganda. The East African nation lowered its rate of infection from 15 percent to 5 percent after an ABC campaign promoting a for abstinence, b for being faithful in a monogamous relationship and c for condom use.

But Uganda’s economy is growing 5 percent a year, and it has high literacy and a stable government. Half of Haitians are illiterate, most are jobless in a shrinking economy, and the president’s policies have caused international donors to suspend aid.

In Haiti, we cannot work with the government, said Lester Munson, chief of staff for the Global Health Bureau of the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni was very committed publicly to fighting AIDS. In Haiti, it’s more complicated.

Since flawed legislative elections in 2000, Haiti has been locked in a political impasse, with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide losing support at home and coming under increased pressure from international donors.

With just $130 million in assistance flowing into Haiti this year—$70 million of it in U.S. aid funneled to private groups—critics are asking whether money being used to promote abstinence could be better spent helping Haitians out of their deepening misery.

There are only a few pastimes we can still enjoy here, said Wilner Cenulus, a 29-year-old Haitian. If they want to cut down on AIDS, then they should help us with jobs.

President Bush signed legislation in May for a $15 billion, five-year AIDS package for medical treatment, abstinence promotion, provision of condoms and other prevention programs in 15 African and Caribbean countries.

It earmarked about $900 million alone to promote abstinence in those countries. U.S. officials say that previously aid money for promoting abstinence wasn’t broken out separately and they have no estimate on much has gone to the campaign in Haiti.

In Haiti, the campaign is aimed at children.

I try to tell girls they should wait, and if they wait, they have less chance of getting pregnant or getting AIDS, said Jasmine Pomond, 19, a volunteer promoting the ABC campaign. Before, when groups would only talk about condoms, kids used to think it was OK to run out and have sex.

But the talk of abstinence often ends in a talk about condoms.

How many of you know someone who has died of AIDS? an AIDS worker, Polyana Domond, asked to an eruption of tiny hands at a session put on by the U.S.-funded Population Services International.

She grasped a wooden penis and ripped open a condom, counseling: Abstinence is the best way to prevent AIDS. But if you have to have sex, do it with a condom.

I started having sex when I was 10, another volunteer, Johnny Gaspard, 19, told other volunteers. Since it’s too late for me to practice abstinence, I just make sure I go out on the field with my socks on! he quipped in a joking reference to condoms.

In a country where many girls start having sex at 13 and boys at 12, abstinence may be a tough sell—but condom use is up.

Last year, 14 million Pante condoms—pronounced Pahn-TEH in Creole—were sold, up from 12 million in 2001 and 10 million the year before, said Paul Hamilton of Population Services International. Sales were also up for female condoms, especially among prostitutes whose numbers have skyrocketed as poverty deepens, he said.