TORONTO, March 23, 2009 (CCRL) – The worldwide backlash occasioned by Pope Benedict’s remarks on condom use as a way of combating AIDS in developing countries, especially in Africa, has included thoughtful commentary as well as ill-informed sneers and tasteless cartoons in the media. Responses to papal statements on this matter, or indeed anything to do with sexuality, tend to follow a predictable pattern. Perhaps the most frequent theme is that the Church has no business even commenting, since it led by men who are not married, and the Church has no medical or scientific authority.
In fact, the Church has more experience treating AIDS victims than any other private institution (an estimated one fourth of the world’s AIDS patients receive care directly from Church agencies.) The most-cited and probably most reliable UN study cites a 10 per cent failure rate for condoms as a method of disease prevention in conditions of correct and consistent use. The real-life failure rate may well be higher. Given that there are countries in Africa where a quarter of the adult population is infected, a 10 per cent failure rate leaves plenty of room for the disease to continue to spread. Clearly behaviour change, and addressing the many other social and public health conditions that contribute to HIV, must have priority in efforts to stem the crisis.
In the developing world, the reckless behaviour that causes most transmission of the HIV virus among adults is aggravated by poor living conditions and the inequality of women, who too often lack the power to refuse an infected partner. These are problems that Church teaching on sexuality addresses well, through its emphasis on the sanctity of marriage, the equal status of husband and wife, and indeed the equal dignity of all people.
The Pope’s is hardly the only voice to state that condoms should not have primacy in the battle against AIDS. The first ladies of Kenya and Uganda are both on record for stating that such Western-led giveaway programs encourage promiscuity, and that abstinence and fidelity within marriage are the keys to halting the spread of the disease. Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, says that measurable declines in transmission can be traced not to condom programs, but to programs encouraging behaviour change.
He writes: ‘Many countries that have not seen declines in HIV have seen increases in condom use, but in every country worldwide in which HIV has declined there have been increases in levels of faithfulness and usually abstinence as well.”
Following is a link to an article by Mr. Green, and Allison Herling Ruark from the April, 08 edition of First Things, elaborating on these findings:
“Responses to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic are often driven not by evidence but by ideology, stereotypes, and false assumptions. Referring to the hyperepidemics of Africa, an article in The Lancet this fall named “ten myths” that impede prevention efforts—including “Poverty and discrimination are the problem,” “Condoms are the answer,” and “Sexual behavior will not change.” Yet such myths are held as self-evident truths by many in the AIDS establishment. And they result in efforts that are at best ineffective and at worst harmful, while the AIDS epidemic continues to spread and exact a devastating toll in human lives.