June 11, 2012
The "ABC" message (Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condomize) that has been used worldwide to prevent the spread of HIV is being criticized in parts of Africa as ineffective.
African faith leaders have designed a new strategy called "SAVE" (Safer practices, Access to Treatment, Voluntary Counseling and testing, and Empowerment) to replace ABC. Fifteen African countries have adopted SAVE, and Malawi is expected to adopt it soon.
A 2011 UNAIDS report said the highest HIV infection rates remain in sub-Saharan Africa, even as infections have dropped by 20 percent. This decline has been linked to changes in behavior and increased knowledge of HIV, both attributable to ABC.
For many groups in Africa, including faith groups, ABC is seen as not effective enough because it fails to curb the stigma of AIDS, which pushes the epidemic underground and hinders universal access to HIV diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, AIDS activists say scientific advances as well as cultural changes in Africa make it necessary to redesign AIDS messages. Mother-to-child HIV transmission still exists, and levels of infection among people in relationships has increased.
ABC's problem is that it takes a moral and sexual approach only which does not work in African cultures, according to Canon Gideon Byagumisha, a Ugandan cleric. He believes a comprehensive strategy is needed that addresses HIV in its entirety.
ABC also does not teach people other strategies to help prevent the spread of HIV. "Abstinence, for example, [also] needs condom use, safe blood, safe circumcision, microbicide, vaccines and so forth," said Byagumisha. "ABC is somehow inaccurate because it seems to portray that once you are faithful you don't get HIV," he said. "Yet we know there are very faithful people, there are people who are virgins at marriage, who end up being positive. This means that faithfulness is not safeness."