Export More Female Condoms, Not Abstinence Programs, Report Says

By Penny Starr and Lois Owen | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. government must provide more funding for the worldwide distribution of female condoms while reducing the amount of money it spends on abstinence-until-marriage programs, according to Serra Sippel, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, or CHANGE.

"The Congressional earmark in PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) -- which we are in the process of trying to remove the earmark that (gives) money for abstinence and fidelity - what we've found from people we interviewed and from various studies is that the result of that is the stigmatization of condom use," Sippel said Tuesday at a briefing at the Global Health Council in Washington, D.C.

Sippel added that the goal of her advocacy group is to "really push the U.S. government to promote sexual and reproductive condom rights within U.S. foreign policy."

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the federally funded agency that distributes international aid, $457 million of its budget for FY 2008 is dedicated to family planning programs, including condom distribution.

The CHANGE briefing also marked the release of its "Saving Lives Now: Female Condoms and the Role of U.S. Foreign Aid" report. In it, the center states that the U.S. government supplied nearly 1.9 billion condoms worldwide between 2004 and 2007.

It also reports that the "the United States government plays an important role in shaping global trends in reproductive and sexual health supplies," with America providing 42 percent of "global donor support" for family planning, including the female condom.

But other advocacy groups say that U.S. foreign aid that promotes sexual activity is doing more harm than good around the world.

"Social radicals ... believe they must liberate Third World children from their benighted traditions and religions and to enlighten them in the way of the American teenager," Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic and Family Rights Institute, told Cybercast News Service. "That is, to be sophisticated about sex and riddled with STDs.

"These social radicals believe that young people not only can't, but shouldn't control themselves sexually," Ruse added. "They seek to tear down, rather than build up the human person."

The center's report also detailed strategies used to successfully distribute female condoms, including in Zimbabwe, where it credits Population Services International, another non-profit health advocacy group, for helping with the distribution of female condoms in that AIDS-stricken country.

"Because approximately 97 percent of Zimbabwean women visit a hair salon at least once a month, PSI also promoted female condoms to women in Zimbabwe using hair salons in low-income, urban areas," the report reads.

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, cited another report to argue that abstinence programs, not condom distribution, can really help women at high risk for contracting AIDS.

A Feb. 2 article in National Geographic online, said a decline in AIDS rates in Zimbabwe was linked to "behavior changes," as first reported in the journal Science.

"Most important, researchers say, is the substantial decrease in casual sex partners reported by Manicaland residents," the National Geographic online article reported. "This, combined with increased abstinence by teenagers, may be contributing to the HIV decline."

"Our biggest problem is relying on methods that have had terrible failure rates," Wright told Cybercast News Service, "while denying them access to programs that have been proven effective."

Wright said groups with agendas like CHANGE are "trying to wipe out the competition by giving no federal funding for abstinence, even though the evidence shows that abstinence programs are effective in delaying sexual initiative and reducing HIV and AIDS rates."

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