HIV Update: Billion Dollar Abstinence Promotion Program for HIV Prevention Largely Ineffective

May 03, 2016 12:18 PM EDT

In hopes to prevent the spread of HIV in some parts of Africa, the U.S. government has invested more than a billion dollars in abstinence promotion programs telling young Africans to avoid having sex before marriage and to commit to a single partner. However, a new study shows that abstinence promotion programs have not been producing significant results in the past few years.

According to the study published in the journal Health Affairs, no evidence showing that the abstinence education funded by the United States had an impact in the sexual behavior known to increase risk of having HIV, such as the number of sexual partners in the previous year and the age of first intercourse.

For the study, researchers compared the sexual behaviors of people from the 14 countries in sub-African continent that received funding for abstinence promotion from the US, and eight countries that did not received at all. Data regarding the sexual behaviors was gathered surveys conducted by U.S. Agency for International Development.

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The researchers then found out that there is no statistically significant difference in the sexual behavior between people living in countries that received funding and people living in countries that did not receive funding.

The study also shows that the average number of sexual partners was one for men and 0.74 for women, while the average age of first intercourse being 18.4 for men and 17 for women.

Since the foundation of President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2004, the U.S. government has invested a total of $1.4 billion into abstinence education. However, during the Obama administration, the funding for abstinence promotion programs has significantly dropped, from $260 million in 2008 to $50 million this year, according to SF Gate.

With their findings, researchers are now suggesting that the money allocated for abstinence education will be better spent on other HIV prevention programs that have shown positive results. These programs include promotion of the use of condoms and distribution of HIV prevention medication. It is also better to invest more on the development of an effective HIV cure.

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