Abstinence in Africa

ASSIST Ministries has another interesting profile (link added):

Professor Dick Day, founder of Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment (SAFE), and co-author with Josh McDowell of the bestselling book “Why Wait? What you need to know about the teenage sexuality crisis”.

Day apparently first came to notice for teaching abstinence in Malawi:

Day happened to be in Malawi on a one-year teaching sabbatical in 1990 when he and his wife Charlotte observed the magnitude of the African crisis firsthand. Horrified, they knew the “Why Wait” message was desperately needed there and decided to remain in Malawi to address the problem.

Word about their Christian-based approach stressing abstinence and faithfulness spread to leaders in surrounding countries. President and Mrs. Museveni of Uganda had particularly receptive ears for the message. Museveni already was bucking the prevailing tide of world opinion by refusing to embrace condoms as the solution to his country’s woes. “I don’t support the idea of condoms myself,” he told the VII International AIDS Conference in 1991.

Instead, Uganda adopted an A-B-C approach to fighting AIDS: Abstinence, Be faithful, use condoms—in that order. “Museveni came out and said there is a place for condoms, but they’re not the solution to the problem,” Day notes.

In 1992, Mrs. Museveni of Uganda invited Day to be the principal speaker at a newly organized youth forum in Kampala. His “Why Wait” message seemed to resonate. “The response from the parents and youth was so positive we did a national one the following year,” Day says. The Uganda Youth Forum became a national event attended by thousands of young people each year.

Museveni has been lauded for his successful results, most famously by George Bush, although there is debate over the official Ugandan statistics, which put the infection rate at 6%, and concern that the role of condoms is being downplayed and marginalized under pressure from the US (see these reports from Human Rights Watch and the Alan Guttmacher Institute).

Back in Malawi, successes have been rather more modest and uncertain. In 2003 UNAIDS reported that

The urban adult prevalence is 23% compared to 12.4% in rural areas. The average life expectancy has dropped to just 39 years. However, there is evidence indicating that HIV prevalence has stabilized over the past seven years at 14–15%. Lilongwe [the capital city] has demonstrated a decline in HIV infection rates among young women (15–24 years) attending antenatal care from 26% in 1996 to 17% in 2003 and among all attendees from 26% in 1998 to 17% in 2003.

Although UNAIDS mentions that “A State Faith Task Force on HIV/AIDS was established with UNAIDS facilitation to enhance the involvement of religious organizations”  in “the fight against HIV/AIDS”, the improvements are put down to anti-corruption efforts, testing, treatment, and information. More recent reports are less optimistic: in February this year the health minister said the county was “increasingly unable to cope”.

Day explains his own approach further in another document (link added):

“WHY WAIT? Africa” was initially presented in 1992 at the first annual week-long Uganda Youth Conference, hosted by First Lady Janet Museveni. In 1993, the Malawi Ministry of Education requested Sub-Saharan Africa Family Enrichment (SAFE) to develop an African-oriented curriculum addressing sexual abstinence, life skills and character development that could be used in schools to help address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The first draft of the WHY WAIT?/Family Enrichment curriculum was drafted by University of Malawi Professor Moira Chimombo. In 1994, the first teacher training and training of trainers (TOTs) workshops were conducted. The WHY WAIT? programme was launched nationally at a convocation of 3,000 students and 500 teachers hosted by State President Bakili Muluzi at Sanjika Palace in 1995.

Day also claims some concrete successes:

…The year prior to the introduction of the WHY WAIT? programme in Ndirande Primary School, 121 girls dropped out due to pregnancies. After the implementation of the WHY WAIT? programme, for two years in Standards 4 through 8, the pregnancy drop-out was reduced to zero.

Meanwhile, a report from Rob and Patricia Williams describes the involvement of Campus Crusade for Christ in what appears to be a complementary program (link added):

In the country of Malawi in Africa in the late 1980’s, Dick Day and Josh McDowell (authors of “Why Wait”) were touring and ministering on the topic of abstinence while presenting the Gospel. The Minister of Education in Malawi approached Dick Day and asked if curriculum could be created based on this message to be taught in the schools. Campus Crusade responded and the ministry CrossRoads was born.

CrossRoads exists to equip national leaders to connect with their target audiences to share the gospel through this AIDS-based curriculum. But its uniqueness is that it involves parent-student involvement, peer involvement, school-community outreach, and teacher-student connection.

CrossRoads exists to equip national leaders to connect with their target audiences to share the gospel through this AIDS-based curriculum. But its uniqueness is that it involves parent-student involvement, peer involvement, school-community outreach, and teacher-student connection.

Day also (not surprisingly, given his association with Biblical literalist Josh McDowell) appears to link his anti-AIDS campaign to anti-evolutionism. Back to ASSIST:

Your world view determines your values, which determines your behavior,” Day notes. “We’re engaged in ideological warfare,” he says. “Are we evolving animals? Or is there a God-given dignity that can be expressed in our sexuality?”

The implementation of Day’s educational curriculum in these countries faces some obstacles. “IF we can keep kids in school we have 10 years to build a biblical world view,” he says.

It seems that for Day, the war against HIV/AIDS is also a war against science itself on behalf of the Bible.

UPDATE: More on HIV in Uganda today.