A Model for Fighting AIDS: When Government Talks about Sex, People Listen

Article excerpt

AIDS researchers in the 1990s expected the disease to devastate Brazil. Ten years later, the country's incredibly successful prevention efforts have proved those predictions wrong.

Brazil's government took the AIDS threat very seriously and took immediate action. Besides free condom distribution, the government initiated widespread education campaigns to get the message out in newspapers, on billboards, and even on the airwaves by having the biggest pop stars sing targeted songs on the radio.

Like Brazil, Uganda has also proved bleak AIDS predictions wrong. What sets these policy programs apart is their open communication about the disease. A frank, far-reaching dialogue about the nature of HIV/AIDS, modes of transmission, and ways of prevention is key, explains Kathryn Whetten, a Duke University health policy expert.

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"In Uganda and Brazil, this discussion was started from the topdown, but it can come from the grassroots as well," says Whetten, director of Duke's Health Inequalities Program in the Center for Health Policy, Law, and Management. "When I look at other countries at great risk now, we may find that their governments will be less inclined to be so open."

Governments in AIDS-plagued Cambodia, Thailand, Nigeria, China, and India are conflicted about how to handle the disease. One reason is the shame associated with AIDS in these countries. Another reason is that strong religious beliefs--regardless of the religion--tend to prohibit open discussions about stopping the spread of the disease because the discussions involve sexuality and not just public health. …