Wednesday morning, Advocates for Youth held a press conference that was attended by youth from a collection of nations. Former Bush administration AIDS czar Scott Evertz had spoken out against the administration he used to represent. I was surprised but thoroughly impressed to find that Mr. Evertz, the first openly gay official to be chosen for the current administration, pulled no punches in speaking out against the specifics of the administration's widely lauded PEPFAR plan. He referred to the profound lack of reality employed in conservative policymakers' treatment of LGBT youth: "If you teach them abstinence only until marriage, and it is illegal for them to marry: do you expect them to remain abstinent their entire lives?" he asked.
Mr. Evertz, while coyly remarking at how Advocates as well as other NGOs used to be the "thorn in his side," said he is now able to join them in lambasting current PEPFAR policy: "People keep asking me if US AIDS Policy has been hijacked by the far right. I'm not sure that it's been entirely hijacked, but let's just say they're on the plane," he remarked.
Speaking from the ground as well as from her heart, Beatrice Were, an HIV positive woman from Uganda, offered a shocking personal example of the shortcomings of PEPFAR policy. Practicing the Abstinence-only-until-Marriage method, she abstained from sex until marrying her husband. However, she still became infected with HIV, through her husband. This instance, in which faithful women have their lives turned upside down by promiscuous partners, is not particular to
Uganda, not the continent of Africa. Beatrice's case highlighted for me the vast gender inequities that exist throughout many of the region's most heavily affected by HIV, and the need for both gender mainstreaming programs which change behavior towards women, but the need to empower them to protect themselves, whether it be microbicides, female condoms, or an extra-strong can of pepper spray. The third panelist, Dr. John Santelli, is a long-time Center for Disease Control official who left the department after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction in which scientific agencies are moving. I had the chance to chat with him before the release, and was found Dr. Santelli to be a sensible, intelligent man in possession of a strong moral agency. He, along with many other scientists, are leaving federal agencies to remain in good conscience
against the tide of ideology invading previously science-oriented organizations. In his case, providing misinformation through Abstinence-Only education goes against his medical training, and it comes without evidence.
"Governments should not be providing misinformation," he reproached. "Physicians should provide patients with accurate diagnoses, accepting this as intrinsic to taking care of patients." Instead of telling patients "what they must do, tell them the risks and advantages," he explained.
"The same is true of government and health education. It's verytroubling for a government to be supporting public misinformation, which is occurring with Abstinence-only education."