Zimbabwe’s “Surprising” AIDS success

The AIDS rate here in Africa far outstrips that of any other continent with infection rates in countries like Botswana and Lesotho approaching 24%. Zimbabwe’s rate was 29% in 1997–that’s almost a third of the population infected with HIV or full-blown AIDS. Within ten years, it had tumbled to 16%…and no thanks to western-style “solutions” that have been touted for years as the only way to deal with AIDS.

[Click below for the full report — not for young readers.]

As recently reported in the ZimDaily, Zimbabwe’s precipitous decline in AIDS infections owes nothing to so-called “safe sex” programs or UN condom distribution initiatives:

The earnestness with which the worldwide media scrutinizes Church statements about AIDS can only mean that they are deeply interested in promoting what has been most responsible for major reductions in its prevalence. Right? Then why haven’t you heard about the plunging prevalence of AIDS in Zimbabwe?

It dropped almost in half, from an astonishing 29 percent of all adults nationwide in 1997 to 16 percent in 2007, according to an important study published in February.

The study was briefly summarized by the New York Times, but its findings generated little buzz because the decline did not occur the way it is supposed to.

In a nutshell, changes in sexual behavior – substantial reductions in casual, extramarital, and commercial sex – accounted for the drop in AIDS….

Poverty, we also still hear, leads to more AIDS. But we’ve known for years that some of the poorest countries in Africa have the lowest AIDS rates, while some of the wealthiest countries have some of the highest AIDS rates. Even within high HIV prevalence countries, AIDS rates tend to be higher among the well off than among the poorer classes.

This might seem counterintuitive, but without “disposable income,” people are less equipped to afford or sustain the multiple sexual partnerships that drive HIV transmission. The hardship and anxiety of Zimbabwe’s economic deterioration over the past decade, it turns out, had a silver lining. Economic collapse, thankfully, is not a precondition for behavior change.

The poverty of an uncouth and callous utilitarianism, however, in which the good is equated with the “safer,” and hope for another way of life remains at best an unwelcome afterthought, is another matter altogether. This intellectual and spiritual poverty, which reigns amidst widespread material sufficiency, saturates HIV prevention policy, but it has not proven to be nearly as protective against HIV as relative material poverty. Nonetheless, many public health leaders still seem convinced that economic improvement – by which is usually meant some form of redistribution – is a prerequisite for AIDS control. As Emory University’s Dr. Carlos del Rio put it recently: “You talk about ‘Can we decrease the HIV burden in the United States?’ I would say, ‘What can we do to decrease poverty in the United States?’”

No doubt he meant to express magnanimity of spirit and earned applause for this sentiment, but it actually reveals deeply unflattering philosophical presuppositions about human nature and capabilities. Are we really to assume that people below a certain material threshold are unable to control their behavior? (Or that no one is capable of changing and no one really should anyway, but that people, by virtue of being above an unspecified material threshold, will therefore comply perfectly with the technical recommendations, which have thus far failed to reverse HIV burdens?)

Persons are thus viewed as less than fully human – as objects dependent upon constantly supplied “services” – while much greater influences on human behavior remain deeply discounted.

This should ring a lot of bells with those of us who have grown up in a culture where permissive sex with any number of partners is not just winked at but openly encouraged by educators and feminists like Erica Jong who assure us that it is “normal” and good for teenagers to “explore their sexuality” as long as they do so “safely.” We are also told that expecting teens (or anyone, for that matter) to practice abstinence until marriage is utterly unrealistic and can even be “harmful.” Dr. Miriam Grossman documents this utterly wrongheaded and short-sighted approach to sex education in her book, You’re Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Ed and How They Harm Your Child. Her earlier book, Unprotected, detailed the devastating emotional and physical consequences of the “hook-up” culture on young men and women, leading to depression, disease, and even suicide.

As the ZimDaily article points out so well, to believe people are unable to change their behavior “reveals deeply unflattering philosophical presuppositions about human nature and capabilities.” If we continuously tell people from an early age that they simply cannot control their sexual drives, we dehumanize them and degrade them in their own estimation on a very deep level. To come along 20 years later and try to throw condoms and “safe sex” programs at a problem we have created is incredibly demeaning and patronizing.

Zimbabwe has proven that condoms aren’t the answer — changes to human behavior are key. And the foundation of those changes rests on the truth that we are not animals but human beings created in the image of God and perfectly capable of making wise decisions about relationships. Sex is a gift from God, created by Him to be enjoyed within the context of a faithful, monogamous marriage. As westerners begin to deride monogamy as allegedly a-historical and uphold promiscuity as our default “setting,” we need to look soberly toward Africa to read our future. Throwing out marriage and monogamy comes with a price I don’t believe we are willing to pay–a price that isn’t just a physical one told through AIDS and STD statistics but a spiritual and emotional one that robs us of our God-given dignity. Zimbabwe’s lesson is for all of us.

(You can read the full article about the study on ZimDaily at THIS LINK.)


6 thoughts on “Zimbabwe’s “Surprising” AIDS success

  1. There are many God-fearing Africans I believe the population that is unsaved there leaves many reasons why the spread. Many times it is due to lack of education simply b/c they have no information and incorrect info is being told and treated as gospel. it is suprising to me the numbers of africans in the states who have no knowlegde of what happened to black americans. They simply are not being taught the word of GOD and those that know have no regard as in the US. Some of the myths that are being told them are riduculous and Condoms are doing only temporary preventing a problem that if behavior is not rectified will eventually end up the same way. But this is not all Africans I mean I see a different Africa emerging and the only solution as in the US is the word. what we see with the gay marriage debate is giving us a clue of man being left to his own devices regardless of nationality or land mass.


  2. In addition it depends on where you look, there are many African Christians who reject the preversity of the states even, so we have to make sure this country learn that God will not continue to protect us if we ignore HIm. many Africans have stood up against gay marriage in ways i dont necessarily condone completely but it has been in a way we have not seen here in our legistators. So there is hope.


  3. Thank you for posting this. I’m always interested in seeing additional points of view on that issue. One question: I tracked this article back to its source, which I believe is Matthew Hanley, but he doesn’t offer the name of the study he cites. He was asked for clarification on that point by another reader a month ago, but has not yet answered the request.


  4. Thank you for the quick reply. That study was really interesting, and helpful. I’m still curious about something, though: I just checked out stats on Zimbabwe’s literacy level (91% – CIA World Factbook), which is much higher than those of many other countries in Africa, and wonder if this could have a positive impact on the spread of health information – e.g., concerning the value of abstinence. While I agree the study shows the helpfulness of abstinence, I’m not sure I accept Hanley’s own over-arching assessment that the relative poverty of Zimbabwe is somehow a positive contributing factor to the drop in AIDS infections. World Bank statistics show other positive indicators over the same time period, such as a primary school completion rate that climbed from 61% to 87% between 2000 and 2009. (http://ddp-ext.worldbank.org/ext/ddpreports/ViewSharedReport?REPORT_ID=9147&REQUEST_TYPE=VIEWADVANCED&DIMENSIONS=227). These kinds of positive changes also have an impact on poverty. In short, I’m not quibbling with the study, but with Hanley’s interpretation of it.


    1. You’re welcome, Merris! I don’t think the poverty connection was the core of Hanley’s assessment but a side note. His main thesis is that people are going back to strengthening their marriages and practicing abstinence, which is much more effective in lowering the AIDS rate than encouraging widespread condom use. Interestingly enough, we had an article in our own paper here in Kenya today about the poverty “blessing”–how being poor can actually prevent you from dealing with a lot of problems that plague the rich. Some of the ills pointed out were heart disease and diabetes (from overstuffed diets), and the piece wound up with statistics on divorces of the wealthy, which cost millions of shillings (the Kenyan unit of money).


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