Opinion - EastAfrican - Nairobi - Kenya  
Monday, July 19, 2004 

Condoms: Why M-7 is No Hero in Anti-Aids War

The EastAfrican

Uganda emerged from the Aids conference in Bangkok, Thailand, worse off, after its best ambassador on the issue potentially set the fight against Aids some good years back.

President Yoweri Museveni, in his speech to a large gathering of heads of state, medical experts, activists and the press, said: "In some cultures sexual intercourse is so elaborate that condoms are a hindrance and therefore a frustration". There was laughter and applause.

But there was more to the speech. He said that abstinence was the best option against fighting HIV/Aids, and not necessarily condoms. 

The advocacy and medical workers in Uganda who daily speak to Aids patients said they were "hurt" by the presidentís speech. Others said the president was "politicising" the conference.

President Museveni knew what he was talking about. The world knows that US President George Bush, who controls the purse strings to so much of the globe, does not like condoms. He says people should abstain.

The underlying implication in Museveni's speech was that if you got Aids, then it is because you are somehow morally decadent. There was a time when it was easy to condemn people, when it was easy to say that you went looking for a problem and found it. But was such moralising adequate when children lose their parents and livelihood?

Of course, those who have followed Museveniís views on Aids were not surprised by his remarks. While campaigning for re-election in 2000/2001, Museveni said Besigye was unfit to be president because he had Aids. In December 2003, he said that soldiers who had Aids were doing a disservice to the country and that they would not get training.

The broadside against Besigye left the country speechless. It was the first time for Museveni to say it loud and clear that having Aids was somewhat criminal.

So, when the president later made the comment regarding soldiers, his personal attitude towards HIV-positive people was confirmed.

Museveniís recent remarks went against the principles that have worked in fighting Aids in Uganda. The basic plank has rested upon acceptance of Aids victims. This means that language used in discussions on the disease should inevitably avoid moralising.

His speech also appears to be in tandem with the views of George Bush. Bushís moral views have already caused damage to reproductive health services. He cut off assistance to family planning organisations that championed abortion. His belief: Stopping abortion saves lives. Fact: 13 per cent of maternal deaths are attributed to unsafe abortions.. He has probably killed more women than terrorists. Through his moral arithmetic, Bush has not only failed to save the unborn, he has also added tens of thousands of mothers to the annual death toll.

People who act as role models by declaring their Aids status will now have to think twice. Bush is dangling money on condition that governments support abstinence. But you need drugs for the sick, not the morally upright.

As a well-respected leader on the topic, Museveni might have successfully pressured Bush to give money even by promoting condoms. That opportunity is lost.

David Kaiza is a staff writer with The EastAfrican based in Kampala

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