Is Abstinence and fidelity effective measure to curb HIV/AIDS & STI in Africa?

Statistics is fantastic when the right questions are asked.

Whenever I see a billboard either online or on the road preaching abstinence, I can’t help but wonder how effective this is given open talk about intimate issues isn’t one thing we are known to be forthright with on the continent.

An interesting article by the New York Times on US spending to push for abstinence and fidelity in many African countries as a way to curb epidemic of HIV/AIDS and STIs on the continent – the study has now been seen as failure because there is no significant difference between sexual attitude of people between the nations where funding is put aside specifically for this purpose and the ‘control’ nations.

The following statement from Mr Lo, the researcher who presented the findings sums up my curiosity about abstinence in Africa:

When answers about age at loss of virginity did not appear to be truthful, he said, he used a conservative form of adjustment, calculating backward from the birth of the first child.‘ 

Give for example, my cousin, Funmi who we grew up together, she got pregnant as a teenager. By the time she was 14 years old, her mother was in her 60s so she gets to do what she likes most of the time.

Around this time, her mother took in an Imam who was invited from out of town to teach Quran to Muslims children in my village. Let’s just say all went well and Funmi had a son – it was one of the biggest scandals in my village – she didn’t even know she was pregnant until well into her pregnancy.

Funmi’s son now is 27 years old – Given she is a deaconess’ daughter, and now a ‘born again’ adult herself, there is no way she will ever disclose she had a son at 14 as that would open a whole can of worms and uninvited judgemental remarks.

From growing up the only girl I remember whose puberty ‘curiosity’ didn’t end her schooling ambition was ‘Seyi’ – she too got pregnant in junior school 3, and like Funmi, she had no idea she was pregnant. Given my school was a Catholic single sex school, we were too ‘holy’ to allow her back into the school. Seyi’s father blamed it all on the mother for allowing her to hawk soft drinks to cocoa stores in the evening – Seyi’s boyfriend was a son of a cocoa merchant. Her mother, a school teacher took the baby girl from Seyi so she only missed just one term of school.

We graduated the same year and now her daughter now is an adult.

Seyi’s case was a success story because her mother stepped up to support.

Usually, it is abortion gone completely wrong or teenagers end up raising children they are not ready for – which means to say regardless of what we say, teenage girls and boys do indeed engage in sexual intimacy – you only know when there is unattended consequences.

While I seem to have learnt a lot from people around me, it was needless nightmare trying to sift through what the ‘deal’ was and dealing with my parents’ ‘paranoia.’

I believe educating children from early age of expectations, giving examples to what might happened under certain circumstances and inform about STIs and ways to avoid being a victim – is the best way to raise awareness on sexually transmitted infections.

And if for some reasons, something did happen, well, having non judgemental support system is the way forward.