A Call for One Month of Abstinence

Two AIDS scientists are calling for a month-long abstinence campaign in Africa. Transmission of the virus is most likely in newly infected people, so abstinence “could cut new infections by up to 45%.” “This kind of initiative could provide hyper-endemic countries with a one-off, short-term adaptation that is cost-effective, easy to monitor and does not create additional stigma,” said Alan Whiteside, one of the researchers calling for the ban. (HT: Marginal Revolution)[%comments]


It will not work.

In Africa where the spread (& infection rates are high) of HIV is rapid, no amount of funds, education or treatment has made an appreciable dent when the will is not there!

Nature has a great way of sorting the matter out. Let the infected die! It worked during the plague...

Before anyone gets their hackles up, I am African

Even in the "West" sexual control is not feasible. Look at any range of 'celebrities' & recently Tiger Woods who had unprotected sex with a porn star(s)! This is an educated/smart chap who should know better!


I think it is assumed that the infect will die already. That does nothing to curb new infection.

Brian S

While we're at it, we might as well ask them to stop fighting with each other and become more egalitarian.


OK, so lets stipulate that everyone in Africa abstains for 1 month. What will that get us?

1) a one month "zero infections" bullet on a powerpoint slide.

2) the next month will have approximately double the number of the normal infections, leading to another bullet on a powerpoint slide.

I would guess that the 2 researchers calling for abstention would conveniently downplay 2 when they ask for more grant money.

grad student

@1, thanks for including the fact that you're African. For a minute there I was appalled at your complete moral bankruptcy, but now that I know that you're from Africa, it's OK!

Eric M. Jones

And you're going to enforce this HOW?

It is darkly amusing when the aids rate falls because absolutely everyone who can get it already has it.


@Eric M. Jones: I presume by "absolutely everyone" you mean every person who is sexually active, receiving medical treatment, taking shorts either for legal or illegal reasons, or being born?

Dr J

Some of the commenters are missing the point - since the transmission rate is very high for newly infected people - if eveyone abstains for a month, there are no more "newly infected people" - hence the transmission rate will be reduced in the next month, when everyone gets on with their business again, hopefully this would cause a more long term reduction in transmission, but would probably have to be repeated every once in a while to keep the rate low - unlike a lot of the posts on this blog this one actually makes a little bit of sense if the orginal author got the science right.

Eric M. Jones

@7 --Thalia. I mean the ship has been torpedoed and we just hit an iceberg. This is bleak bleak stuff. From Wikipedia--

As existential threat in Swaziland

The HIV infection rate in Swaziland is unprecedented and the highest in the world at 26.1% of all adults, and at over 50% of adults in their 20s. This has stopped possible economic and social progress, and is at a point where it endangers the existence of its society as a whole. The United Nations Development Program has written that if the expansion continues unabated, the "longer term existence of Swaziland as a country will be seriously threatened". Swaziland's HIV epidemic has reduced life expectancy to only 32 years as of 2009, which is the lowest in the world by six years. The next highest is 38 years in Angola, also from HIV. From another perspective, HIV/AIDS currently causes 61% of all deaths in the country. ....about 2% of Swaziland's total population dies of HIV/AIDS every year.

Yikes. Abstain for a month? How can that help?



"Let them die" means stop ising drugs to prolong the lives of infected persons. Aids only takes 20 years to kill when treated. I assume this is what the first poster is suggesting.


I kind of chuckled when I read this.
They're really not intelligent enough to understand this now are they?
I mean if they actually did grasp this concept to the point where for 1 month they didn't have sex well they'd probably have the understanding to use a condom or other forms or protection to begin with so it didn't spread.
It can be suggested till the last breathe in our bodies they still lack the ability to understand it or the consequences of their actions.

I agree with the first poster, cruel as it is let nature sort it out. The country can't survive on its own and needs to be trimmed.
Sink or swim, all our aid and funds and charity is just prolonging misery to a dying country that needs to die and come back when it can handle it.

I'm not saying that it isn't right to financially aid countries who need it but when a country still can't even function let alone support itself after 40 years it's time to rethink what's wrong and perhaps realize it's not meant to be.

I'm cynical and I admit it's sad and many will die but many many many more will be born and continue to suffer for generations if we don't change things now.
Aid isn't working.



Well, it can't hurt, and it can be done. At least based on my own experience during my wife's two pregnancies -- and other times ...



Jim, you must me one of that rare sub-species that doesn't know how to masturbate.

Seriously? "The country?"

@Lizzy: Um, Africa isn't a country; it's a continent.

And aid *can* work; like anything in the world, sometimes we set up systems that work, sometimes we don't.

The rest of your rant ... oy ...


Ray, the viral load is highest two weeks after initial infection, so the chance of infecting someone else is great. A month of abstinence will lower the rate of infection in subsequent months.


@ coldtusker: notice the article said abstinence "could cut new infections by up to 45%." The initiative would buy time to help sort out infected people from non-infected people.

Jeppe Lisdorf

Okay, before we get all übermensch-ish and write off the the infected africans as a lost investment, let's just look at the proposition for a second.

First of all, as many comentators have pointed out, it is not possible to get people to stop having sex for a month. If it was possible to stop people from doing something that might potentially damage them, this would be a uniform solution for all the worlds problems.

Second, this is not possible, because there is no positive alternative. As any decent economist know, when a consumer has a need, you can't just stop marketing the product. People will find substitutes for the product. What substitute is there for sex? My best possible answer is: T.V. !


@ aaron,

You're correct about the viral load, but after a month of no nookie, you can bet that everyone will get it on at increased rates as well. If we assume that the viral load is half after one month and we assume that the "get it on" rate is double after one month of no nookie, then what have we accomplished?


Abstinence makes no sense. In 2001, a female born in South Africa had a greater chance of being raped in her lifetime than learning how to read (Dempster, 2002).

Separating non-infected people from infected people won't work since the symptoms of HIV can take years to show up. The average lifespan in some African countries is 32. Perhaps we should focus on how to better deliver aid to the nation as the way we've been doing it seems to have had little impact.