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It’s long been a running joke that the US government is terrible at spending money, and usually the joke is told by conservatives who are angry about taxes going to what they see as useless endeavors like fruit fly research or song bird research or tabacco research or climate change research or, well, research, in general, that costs the American public anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to a million dollars per “useless” study.
One thing I’ve never seen on a list of wasted government money is abstinence-only education. Abstinence-only education has been proven time and time again to not work–US states that have it have higher rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and I assure you there is both correlation and causation.
And yet, from 1996 to 2010, Congress spent more than $1.5 billion on abstinence-only education in American schools. That’s an impressive amount even in the crazy world of government spending, and it’s an absolutely luxurious amount compared to the obscure $10,000/each endangered tree frog studies that conservatives love to complain about.
$1.5 billion of money wasted on 15 years of useless education for American kids is bad enough, but I recently learned that in the ten years between 2004 and 2013, the U.S. government spent an additional $1.4 billion on abstinence-only education for communities in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s even more money per year spent in places where the penalty for ignorance is much, much higher than in the U.S., since HIV is rampant.
And sure enough, a rigorous, comprehensive study has just been published showing that when it comes to HIV risk factors like age of first sexual contact, rate of teen pregnancies, and total number of sexual partners, there is absolutely no difference between areas that got that $1.4 billion dollars and areas that did not get any funding at all.
So that’s a total of about $3 billion dollars, completely wasted on pseudoscience.
What does work to prevent the spread of HIV? The same research showed that the best thing we can do is empower women. Make sure women are allowed an education and given all the resources they need to stay in school as long as possible, which reduces risky sexual behavior. And, make sure pregnant women have access to comprehensive healthcare, including HIV meds that will prevent them from giving the disease to their children.
In fact, the money the US.. has spent on just making sure people in Africa have access to HIV meds has saved an estimated million lives. So we’re doing great when it comes to treatment, because our treatment is based on sound science. The only reason why our prevention efforts aren’t based on science as well is because the Religious Right continues to stick their fingers in their ears when it comes to recognizing the fact that people are going to have sex whether you want them to or not, so you’d better teach them how to do it safely.
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