European Union attacks US `war on condoms`

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The European Union has issued a strongly worded attack on United States' approaches to HIV prevention in developing countries. In particular it targets US reluctance to supply condoms to young people who, American policy makers believe, should be encouraged to abstain from sex before marriage.

“HIV prevention requires that governments and communities have the courage to confront difficult issues in an open and informed way. We understand that in many settings there is a cultural resistance to openly discussing sex, sexuality and drug use. 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.”

“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.”

The statement emphasises the need for universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services for women, men and young people, including people living with HIV and AIDS. It stresses that people should have access to a full range of reproductive choices, in line with policy agreed at the Cairo UN Population summit in 1994, which affirmed that abortion was a national policy issue. The US Congress has insisted that no money from its PEPFAR treatment programme can be used to fund programmes that offer abortion or counselling on abortion, effectively preventing the use of US funds to integrate HIV prevention activities into reproductive health services.

The US has also insisted that two-thirds of the money earmarked for prevention in the PEPFAR programme should be spent on programmes that promote abstinence from sexual activity.

Although the statement has been interpreted as an attack on US prevention policy, the EU is also implicitly critical of countries like Russia, where interventions targeting injecting drug users are still impaired by politically motivated restrictions on provision of clean injecting equipment and substitution therapy.

The statement was coordinated by the United Kingdom government as part of its presidency of the European Union, and was endorsed yesterday by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.