[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
LOME, 19 April (PLUSNEWS) - After consistently emphasising
condoms in their prevention campaigns, organisations in Togo are
advocating abstinence, creating confusion among young people.
"Yesterday they were advertising condoms, now they recommend
abstinence. It now looks like those who doubted the effectiveness
of condoms have been proved right," said Alfred, a security guard
working in the capital city of Lome.
Many other young Togolese are baffled by the shift to promoting
abstinence rather than condoms as the best means of protection
In July 2005, Population Services International (PSI), which
specialises in social marketing, launched a massive advertising
campaign in the media and on the streets of Lome to promote
abstinence, with slogans like "a true man knows how to wait" and
"a true woman knows how to wait and does not yield to pressure".
PSI is well-known for its condom promotion efforts and, at one
stage, distributed them free of charge, but its 'Protector Plus'
condoms now cost 100 francs (US $0.20) for a box of four. In
2005, 700,000 units per month were sold in a country with five
"For those who could be persuaded to use condoms, we managed to
convince them, and today condoms are available to 95 percent of
the population. We are now left with those who are difficult to
convince," Maya Andrews, the resident representative of PSI in
Togo told PlusNews.
PSI's strategy now focused on educating people, especially the
youth, about avoiding infection, and promoted abstinence as the
best protection against AIDS. "We do not wish to give people the
impression that with a condom everything is allowed," Andrews
The new policy has not been popular with some young people, the
primary target of the campaign. Amah Credo, 18, believes that
"asking us to abstain from sexual contact while we're surrounded
by so many things that encourage us to have [sex] is like
believing in Utopia. Television, movies, the way girls dress up
... all this promotes a certain frame of mind, which leads us to
sex", the student remarked.
Fafa, 17, commented: "I don't find anything bad in sex. If I need
it, I ask my boyfriend to wear a condom and the problem is
solved, but abstinence? No, because I have already started."
But Ilda, 16, who said she was a virgin, disagreed: "I don't have
the time or inclination for that - my studies are more important
at this stage. After finishing, I'll see."
Andrews regrets the negative reaction to the new campaign.
"People don't seem to understand what we call abstinence; they
mix it up with chastity, whereas our objective is to delay, as
much as possible, the first sexual encounter," she said.
A PSI study found that two-thirds of people aged between 15 and
25 have already had their first sexual experience, and Andrews
acknowledged that young people often had to endure considerable
peer pressure, which led to them having sex.
Consequently, PSI has created clubs at about 20 colleges in the
country to help girls not yield to pressure and to teach them how
to better defend themselves. Sarah Wood, who is in charge of this
initiative, said the clubs also encouraged young women to avoid
unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and to
delay their sexual debut by turning to abstinence.
According to Andrews, "To reduce social pressure and to
'de-stigmatise' abstinence, we want to tell young people to
abstain, even if they have already had sex."
Despite the heavy emphasis on abstinence in advertising
campaigns, PSI and other HIV/AIDS organisations maintained that
the complete ABC (Abstain, Be Faithful, Condomise) strategy for
preventing HIV infection was still valid.
Espoir Adabiobinder, a psychological assistant at the Togolese
NGO, 'Sauvons la vie' (Saving Life) commented, "Abstinence is
ideal ... but we should not forget other means to modify
behaviour ... the idea is: 'condoms are good, but abstinence is