Aids scientists have called for a month-long sex ban, saying it could almost halve the spread of the virus. Researchers working on the frontline in the fight against the world's worst Aids epidemic want African leaders to head up a month of sexual abstinence. They say the campaign, could cut new infections by 45 per cent and break the cycle of infection – a huge step in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
Someone newly infected is most likely to pass on the HIV virus within a month of being infected, say disease specialists Alan Whiteside and Justin Parkhurst. Their study looked at religious groups, such as Muslims who don’t have sex during Ramadan, and Zimbabwe’s Marange Apostolic sect, which abstains during the Passover. Mostly Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia have a low HIV rate of 0.2 per cent, according to UNAids, the Joint United Nations program on AIDS/HIV. Whiteside argues that practising Muslim men are protected from HIV by the ban on sex during the daylight hours of Ramadan, alongside strict rules about alcohol, homosexuality and extra-marital sex.
In contrast, mostly Christian South Africa has 18 per cent (5.7 million people) living with Aids. Neighbouring Zimbabwe has a similar rate. But people belonging to Zimbabwe’s Marange sect have lower rates than the rest of the people in the southern African. Meanwhile, Swaziland, a small kingdom sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, has the highest proportion of HIV infections in the world, at 26 per cent. "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, from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal, who was one of the pair behind the study.
A month-long promise to use a condom could also work in the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids, he said. "The main thing is to agree on a bounded period in which the entire population would live by the same rule," he told the Guardian newspaper. In Swaziland, the government agency charged with preventing Aids, welcomes the idea. "We see this kind of initiative as a way of breaking the cycle. We think a good month to do it would be during the southern African spring, in October or November," said Derek von Wissell, director of Swaziland's National Emergency Response Council on HIV/Aids.