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Sexual abstinence programmes do not lower HIV infection rates

A study analysis conducted by the University of Oxford and published in the British Medical Journal says that abstinence-only programmes for HIV prevention do not work

A study conducted by the University of Oxford and published in the 4 August edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has said that abstinence-only programmes for HIV prevention do not work

In an analysis of 13 studies involving more than 15,000 young Americans, most of the programmes were based in schools and directed at children in grades five through eight. One was intended for adults ages 18 to 21. There were various control groups, including some in modified programmes and in some cases in no programme at all. Compared with those control groups, abstinence-only programmes had no significant effect in either decreasing or increasing sexual risk behaviour.

Seven trials tracked sexually transmitted infections, finding no significant short- or long-term benefit to abstinence-only programmes. None of the programmes made any significant difference in preventing pregnancy, reducing unprotected sex, or delaying sexual initiation.

Kristen Underhill, the lead author and a research officer at the University of Oxford, said: "We hope our review encourages a closer look at the empirical research regarding HIV prevention programmes. It appears that this evidence base is frequently neglected in debates over abstinence-based prevention."

Many abstinence programmes to prevent HIV in the US and Africa are funded by US federal grants. In 2006, Congress' General Accounting Office found that most abstinence-until-marriage programmes are not reviewed in a scientifically acceptable manner.

15th August 2007

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