AIDS: Europe rejects U.S. policy

CALL FOR SOLIDARITY: A girl holds a banner while marching on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, on Thursday.  

Sarah Boseley

London: Europe, led by the U.K., on Wednesday night signalled a major split with the United States over curbing the AIDS pandemic in a statement that tacitly urged African Governments not to heed the abstinence-focused agenda of the Bush administration.

The statement, released for World AIDS Day on Thursday, emphasises the fundamental importance of condoms, sex education and access to reproductive health services. ``We are profoundly concerned about the resurgence of partial or incomplete messages on HIV prevention which are not grounded in evidence and have limited effectiveness,'' it says.

Widespread anxiety

While the U.S. is not named, there is widespread anxiety over the effect of its pro-abstinence agenda in countries such as Uganda, where statements by Janet Museveni, the President's wife, and alleged problems with supply have led to a serious shortage of condoms.

The U.S. has pledged $15 billion over five years to fight the disease, most of which is channelled through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar). Pepfar grants come with conditions, however — two-thirds of the money has to go to pro-abstinence programmes, and it is not available to any organisations with clinics that offer abortion services or even counselling.

The U.S. is also opposed to the provision of needles and syringes to drug users on the grounds that it could be construed as encouraging their habit.

But the statement from 22 E.U. member states, released at a meeting under the U.K. presidency in London on Wednesday, calls on developing world Governments to use every prevention tool, from condoms to clean needles to sexual health clinics, in a bid to slow down the spread of HIV. UNAIDS's latest figures show 40 million people are now infected, and the rate is rising as fast as ever. ``We, the European Union, firmly believe that, to be successful, HIV prevention must utilise all approaches known to be effective, not implementing one or a few selective actions in isolation,'' it says.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005