June 4, 2004
Stephen Langa knows about AIDS and failure firsthand. And that’s why he also knows about success.
Stephen is from Uganda. The devastation of the African continent by AIDS is personal: his own younger brother died. Stephen works in the schools where hundreds of thousands of children experience the loneliness of life without parents. To date, nearly two million Uganda children are orphans because of AIDS.
It takes looking failure full in the face to be able to appreciate success. And that’s why Stephen came from Uganda to visit the United States. He brings us a story of success: Uganda alone in the world is turning the tide in the battle against AIDS.
“I come from Uganda,” Stephen tells his audience, “and HIV has devastated our continent and our country. In Uganda, especially in the early 90s we had whole villages wiped out, where the entire adult population was wiped out….Everyone of us in Uganda has either been infected or affected by HIV.”
Responding to the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic, Stephen left his career in electrical engineering and founded Family Life Network, an organization that sends teachers into the high schools to teach young people one simple message.
All over Uganda, teachers are working to prevent HIV infection “by teaching what we call value-based sex education in secondary school,” Stephen says. “Now, by value-based we mean sex education that has morals in it. That’s what we teach.”
The message is as simple as ABC. “A” stands for a personal commitment to abstain from sexual relationships until a person is ready for marriage. “B” stands for fidelity inside of marriage…”B” faithful. Finally, “C” refers to condom use.
But Stephen warns us about America’s reliance on the condom. “Condoms are not 100% safe. You see, human life is precious….Now if there’s a chance of failure, it means we are risking precious life. A life is priceless. So we want to have something that can actually protect our people.”
And this is where Uganda has set the standard for the world, becoming a beacon light of hope against the rising tide of AIDS infection. Uganda is committed to A and B. Totally committed.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet provide the national leadership and tone for their country by emphasizing the value of time-honored Uganda cultural practices. They have inspired the Ugandan people to return to abstinence and marital fidelity.
Under their leadership, the commitment of a child toward abstinence until marriage is given dignity and support. Students sign commitment cards, and their name on the line is more than a momentary gesture to please a teacher. It is a personal promise they are willing to keep.
Why do students in Uganda honor their pledge to remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage? Stephen tells us it’s more than their fear of becoming infected with HIV. “We go out there and we teach these young people about sexuality. And we found out that if you teach sexuality and teach young people about sexuality in relationship to all of life, then they understand it. They see the big picture. When you see it from the big picture point of view, they understand it and they behave.”
The results are in. Uganda has demonstrated a cure for the AIDS epidemic. In the early 1990s Uganda had one of the worst African AIDS infection rates, but by 2001 Uganda had reduced HIV by 70 percent.
Cambridge researchers confirm that Uganda’s success is “linked to a 60% reduction in casual sex.” And they confirm Stephen’s warnings about condoms. “Despite substantial condom use and promotion of biomedical approaches, other African countries have shown neither similar behavioral responses nor HIV prevalence declines of the same scale. The Ugandan success is equivalent to a vaccine of 80% effectiveness.”
Americans, take note. While our companies are loading crates filled with condoms onto ships bound for Africa, Stephen makes us realize that America is exporting failure. It’s time to make a change.
Is there a cure for AIDS? Yes! And Americans have the answer within reach, imported straight from Uganda.
See Archives for past editorials.
April 30, 2004: Condoms: A Failure to Protect
March 26, 2004: Abstinence: The Real Deal