Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ignorance is Never Bliss

I recently saw the beginnings of a minor flame war in the Letters section of the San Jose Mercury News. OK, I started it. Anyway, another letter writer thought that abstinence-only programs to fight HIV/AIDS shouldn't be so controversial, as he credited this approach with cutting by half the infection rate in Uganda. I thought he was an idiot, which I tried to say a little more diplomatically:

"It is disingenuous to state, as did Mr X (Letters, March
30), that Uganda used an abstinence-only program to reduce that
country's HIV-infection rate. In fact, Uganda devised a program that
employed a variety of approaches. Referred to as the ABC program, it
promoted Abstinence, Being faithful and using Condoms. It was not
until the Bush administration started attaching more strings to funds
given to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa that the focus
stated to shift to abstinence-only programs."

My initial reason for responding to this man was that this was another instance of the half-truths put forth by the extreme right, evangelical wing of the Republican party, using distortion of fact to bolster their arguments against using government funds for anything other than abstinence-only programs, both in the US and around the world. Their reasoning (if one can call it that)? Promoting the use of condoms encourages promiscuity. This is the same group of people who are against making the HPV vaccine part of the routine vaccination schedule for girls. And the same people fighting to keep the FDA from approving over-the-counter use of Plan B.

The Bush administration has allocated huge amounts of money to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, which is commendable. What is not is that there are now complicated formulas that must be applied by anyone receiving these funds, leading many groups to just put their efforts into the "approved" abstinence-only programs. The administration has also been aggressive in courting faith-based programs that promote abstinence and faithfulness over, rather than in tandem with the use of condoms.

As for the HPV vaccine: Some researchers have estimated that as many as 75% of Americans have been infected with HPV at some time. Most of them don't know it. Some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2006 alone, there will be "about 9,710 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in the US" and that approximately 3,700 women will die from it. So by rejecting efforts to make a vaccine available to all girls, almost 4,000 women are being condemned. Why? It is possible that, even if a woman did abstain from sex until marriage, she could then marry a man who is infected and doesn't know it. Is she to be punished because a small, vocal group squashed the vaccine because it offended their moral sensibilities? Do we really want to go back to the days of "she was asking for it"?

Now (sorry to be one of those annoying people who ask and answer their own questions) would I prefer that my daughters wait until they are in a committed relationship before having sex (many, MANY years from now!)? Of course I would. But the reality is, I can't control that. Neither can I just close my eyes and wish the world or human nature away. What I can do is give them a solid foundation of self-respect and common sense. We have to teach them everything we can about trusting their instincts. We have to teach them that it's OK to say no. We have to give them any and all information they might need, whether it's about abstinence or using a condom or the existence of Plan B. And most importantly, we have to let them know, every minute of every day, that they can come to us for anything, tell us anything, ask us anything.

When it comes to the health and well-being of children, ignorance is never bliss; it's just plain stupid.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Leonard said...

Well said! I, on the other hand, will not be so diplomatic as you. As you can see by what is going on - this is just another opportunity for the fanatical, bible beaters (the diplomatic term being 'extreme right, evangelical wing of the Republican party')to push their whacko beliefs on others.

The Bush Administration is allocating money to fight AIDS in Africa by preaching abstinence! OF COURSE THEY ARE! When are they going to start building 'houses of worship' so the natives can to roll on the floor and testify? Is the statue of Jimmy Swaggart going to be built before or after the power plant to supply electricity to the town?