Promoting abstinence is not effective in preventing HIV transmission, a new study has found.
More specifically, the millions of dollars worth of U.S. government programs have shown no evidence of changing individual sexual behaviors and decreasing the risk of HIV, the Stanford University School of Medicine study revealed.
U.S. Government Efforts To Curb HIV
In 2004, the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) worked to encourage people to limit the number of their sexual partners and delay their first sexual intercourse to decrease the number of teens being pregnant.
These initiatives, however, appear to be less efficient in achieving their goals of curbing HIV risks.
Although PEPFAR has slowly decreased its support and funding, the study authors still think that the remaining $50 million in annual financial support may be used in other more effective programs against HIV.
"Overall we were not able to detect any population-level benefit from this program," says lead author Nathan Lo. "We believe funding should be considered for programs that have a stronger evidence basis."
How The Researchers Came Up With The Study Results
To evaluate the effectiveness of the PEPFAR programs, the team looked into the almost 500,000 men and women in 14 target countries. They also looked into data from 1998 to 2013 before and after the program began. They compared risk behavior changes among people living in U.S. government-funded programs and those who were not.
No Significant Changes
In one of the studies, men and women from PEPFAR- and non-PEPFAR-funded countries did not exhibit notable differences in the number of sexual partners.
The team also looked into the age of first sexual intercourse and found that PEPFAR women had their first sexual experience slightly later than those who do not live in PEPFAR countries. However, the discrepancy is just four months, which is fairly short and not statistically significant.
Teenage pregnancy rates among PEPFAR and non-PEPFAR nations did not show significant differences as well.
In the end, the team concluded that their work adds up to the increasing body of evidence that abstinence and fidelity may not be effective in preventing HIV transmission. It also supports the need to invest in other quality programs for HIV prevention in developing countries.
The study was published online in Health Affairs on May 2.