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Commentary & Opinion

Wall Street Journal Columnist Examines Criticism of Population Services International's Approach to HIV/AIDS Prevention

March 4, 2005

The not-for-profit organization Population Services International -- which uses a market-based "Madison Avenue-style sizzle" to promote abstinence, fidelity and safer sex -- "finds itself in the crosshairs" of some conservatives who oppose the group's promotion of condoms, Wall Street Journal columnist David Wessel writes in a Journal opinion piece. PSI -- which receives almost half of its $250 million annual budget from federal funding -- purchases products such as HIV tests, anti-malarial mosquito netting and water-purification tablets on the open market and sells them at "deep discounts" to people in developing countries through local retailers, according to Wessel. The group also uses marketing campaigns that include songs produced by local artists and advertisements usually cleared by local health authorities to promote the "ABC" HIV/AIDS prevention method -- which stands for abstinence, be faithful and use condoms, Wessel says. However, PSI's critics say the group's promotion of condoms "promotes sex among those who would otherwise avoid it," according to Wessel. Regardless of the criticism, the organization "tries, harder than many other nonprofits, to measure its effectiveness at improving health" and "prizes results above prejudices," Wessel writes.

Politics and Prevention
Critics of PSI's adherence to the "ABC" method say the U.S. government should focus on abstinence and fidelity and "avoid" organizations that promote safer sex and condom use, according to Wessel. However, this raises three questions: whether the United States has the right to decide if a country affected by HIV/AIDS should urge condom use, whether the United States should fund only groups that share its current politics and whether the United States should fund groups that only use programs that are government-approved, not necessarily the most effective, Wessel says. PSI "pragmatically" believes that abstinence, fidelity and safer sex all work to prevent the spread of HIV, and therefore the group promotes all three, Wessel concludes (Wessel, Wall Street Journal, 3/3).

Back to other news for March 4, 2005

Reprinted with permission from You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report is published for, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, by The Advisory Board Company. © 2004 by The Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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