By José Maria C.S. André
I write from Uganda, East Africa’s paradise. Ahead, lies Lake Victoria, 300 km (186.5 miles) in diameter, with a shoreline of 5,000 km (3,105 miles). At noon, the sun shines almost vertically on this immense surface of water, because we are precisely over the equator. The light is dazzling. However, the altitude of the country is so high that the combination of the African equator and altitude produces a dreamlike temperature, reminding me the mild temperate days of spring in Portuguese latitudes.
The history of Uganda is unique and the people I’ve come across are kind, uncomplicated and welcoming. It is easy to engage in a conversation with strangers. The locals are relaxed, fun, willing to help. One breathes peace here and, as far I am told, one can go safely everywhere. Who would think that this is a revolutionary country compared to the European mentality?
Before leaving Lisbon, I went to a medical clinic for travelers, to receive the necessary vaccines and listen for the relevant advice. Nearly all right. Indeed, everything all right except for one detail, the insistent call to use condoms to prevent AIDS.
Doctors know that a faithful couple or a person who does not have sex never contracts a sexually transmitted disease and do not need condoms. The curious thing is that these doctors do not consider the hypothesis that a couple can be faithful or a single person is not heading for sex tourism. I am not discussing morality, just politeness.
On landing in Uganda, one feels the contrast with the way they deal with AIDS.
In the early 90s, a large share of the Ugandan population was infected with AIDS and the epidemic was spreading rampantly. Considering other very serious diseases, the situation was dreadful. So critical that the Government took an unprecedented measure. It launched the ABC program, to promote the sense of responsibility. ‘A’ was Abstinence, for single people; ‘B’ was Being faithful, for married people; ‘C’ was Condom, for those who did not want ‘A’ and ‘B’. This national mobilization put an end to many less responsible dating and marriage experiences. The change was so remarkable that, within 10 years, the percentage of Ugandans with AIDS had fallen below that of many countries considered safe.
The part that went well was ‘A’ and ‘B’. The population adhered massively to the campaign and adopted a more mature family lifestyle. Fewer divorces, fewer abandoned children, fewer early pregnancies, more stable families, with higher levels of satisfaction and better education co
nditions for young people. The part that continues to have difficulty in getting rid of AIDS is the ‘C’-club, because the condom, although it is a barrier, does not completely prevent the migration of the virus. If you escape once, nothing guarantees that you will not get infected the next time and whoever repeats the risk exposes himself significantly.
The Ugandan ABC strategy was an international success, plain and unique. No one has doubts. Nevertheless, the program is widely criticized in the West for being a proposal of loyalty, supposedly against sexual and reproductive freedom. Many in the West think that to eradicate AIDS with faithful behavior would be an easy task; the challenge is to achieve that goal without changing certain lifestyles.
In my country, where we are not very used to having original opinions, we prefer to imitate what we see around and so we keep enrolled in the ‘C’-club. The industry may be grateful. The population of Uganda finds it decadent. Three days ago, I read in a Ugandan newspaper:
“… you change, or you fade out”.
José Maria C.S. André is a professor of Mechanical Engineering from Lisbon. He has given his permission to reproduce this article which he translated from the original Portuguese.