Tennessean - Larry Bivins
WASHINGTON — In the global battle against AIDS, the Ugandan experience provides an impressive starting point, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said yesterday.
Alexander, a Republican, applauded the "ABC" — Abstinence, Be faithful, use a Condom — approach that Ugandan officials have employed to drive down the number of people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS to 5% of the total population at the end of 2001 from 15% in 1991.
"In the midst of the AIDS pandemic, a beacon of hope shines out from Uganda," Alexander said as he opened a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee he chairs on African affairs.
The hearing to review the Ugandan model followed Senate approval Friday of President Bush's request for $15 billion to fight AIDS worldwide. Alexander has introduced legislation to bolster the treatment of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
More than 40 million people are infected with HIV — 30 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. But Uganda has made dramatic progress and could be a model for other countries struggling to combat AIDS.
"The heart of the story is behavior change," Alexander said.
He noted that in one part of the country, the number of youths ages 13-16 who reported being sexually active fell to 5% in 2001 from 60% in 1994. And the number of Ugandan men who reported having two or more sexual partners dropped to less than 20% in 1995 from more than 70% in 1989.
Because of the difference in cultures among African countries, Uganda's model may not work in other areas, cautioned Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., the subcommittee's ranking Democrat.
But Feingold and others stressed that the role of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and religious leaders in the country of about 22 million people should not be minimized. "The bottom line is that Uganda's multifaceted approach to combating AIDS was successful."
Sophia Mukasa Monico, a native Ugandan and senior AIDS officer at the Global Health Council, told the committee that as supporters promote the Uganda program, no single element should be emphasized.
"I am deeply concerned when I hear people taking a single element of our successful national program, like abstinence, out of context and ascribing all of our achievement to that one element. All three elements must be implemented together in order for prevention to work."