Can Biblical principles solve the HIV crisis in Africa or is the Pope sending the wrong message?

by Kawuma

“You can’t resolve HIV/AIDS with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters “On the contrary, it increases the problem. The pope said a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease; The Catholic Church rejects the use of condoms as part of its overall teaching against artificial contraception. Senior Vatican officials have advocated fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as key weapons in the fight against AIDS.

The irony is that the Pope uttered these sentiments while visiting a continent that has been torn apart by the HIV epidemic. It is very irresponsible for a religious leader such as the Pope with a large Catholic following to make such a statement without fully assessing the consequences. I understand the religious debate behind distributing condoms, but the reality on the ground will not only be solved by biblical principles. Sub-Saharan Africa and many other parts of the world are in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic—– we have reached a stage where we have to throw the kitchen sink at this pandemic.

We can’t afford to take any preventive strategies off the table. The Pope and proponents of this school of thought need to understand that condoms continue to save millions of lives. Simply preaching the message of abstinence has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. There have been successful stories and significant results through campaigns which promote the ‘ABC’ model of AIDS prevention:  (A) Abstinence, (B) Be Faithful and (C) (use a) Condom if the first two fail. It is important to always have a safety net because every life is worth saving—- When it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS; I believe that the end justifies the means.

© Kawuma Daniel Busuulwa



7 thoughts on “Can Biblical principles solve the HIV crisis in Africa or is the Pope sending the wrong message?

  1. I have been waiting for one of you to write on this. Thanks. To preach abstinence and sexual responsibility is one thing, but to say that condoms spread HIV is another. The reality, like you say, is that condom, used correctly, save lives.

  2. What are these religious institutions doing to our people? We need to realize that the reality is grounded. God created the scientist who invented condoms and all the medical doctors out there. He did it for a reason. We need these things. The pope needs a pill.

  3. @ Mameneh, Indeed he needs a pill. A strong one at that. This here is irresponsibility at its coldest. And to make it worse, I don’t even think he believes it. He can’t! You have to be out of your mind to say condoms help spread AIDS. And I don’t think he is out of his mind. What he is is drunk on conviction. That right there is what religion does; it makes you look cold fact in the face and deny it just because it doesn’t agree with your religious principles.

  4. To think that we have evolve is premature. Religion have started wars, caused revolutions, brought on hate and racism. Have we not learned yet that to believe in a power higher then yourself doesn’t mean “to condemn.” We have to gain the courage to differentiate our interpretations from someone else’s. The pope 100% percent doesn’t believe what he said, but he is a puppet for the Vatican and his religion.

  5. This interesting commentary was posted on the Washington Post, I was going to post some excerpts but decided to just post the whole article;

    By Edward C. Green

    When Pope Benedict XVI commented this month that condom distribution isn’t helping, and may be worsening, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, he set off a firestorm of protest. Most non-Catholic commentary has been highly critical of the pope. A cartoon in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted in The Post, showed the pope somewhat ghoulishly praising a throng of sick and dying Africans: “Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms.”

    Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

    We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this. The condom has become a symbol of freedom and — along with contraception — female emancipation, so those who question condom orthodoxy are accused of being against these causes. My comments are only about the question of condoms working to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa’s generalized epidemics — nowhere else.

    In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations’ AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa. UNAIDS quietly disowned the study. (The authors eventually managed to publish their findings in the quarterly Studies in Family Planning.) Since then, major articles in other peer-reviewed journals such as the Lancet, Science and BMJ have confirmed that condoms have not worked as a primary intervention in the population-wide epidemics of Africa. In a 2008 article in Science called “Reassessing HIV Prevention” 10 AIDS experts concluded that “consistent condom use has not reached a sufficiently high level, even after many years of widespread and often aggressive promotion, to produce a measurable slowing of new infections in the generalized epidemics of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Let me quickly add that condom promotion has worked in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, where most HIV is transmitted through commercial sex and where it has been possible to enforce a 100 percent condom use policy in brothels (but not outside of them). In theory, condom promotions ought to work everywhere. And intuitively, some condom use ought to be better than no use. But that’s not what the research in Africa shows.

    Why not?

    One reason is “risk compensation.” That is, when people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex.

    Another factor is that people seldom use condoms in steady relationships because doing so would imply a lack of trust. (And if condom use rates go up, it’s possible we are seeing an increase of casual or commercial sex.) However, it’s those ongoing relationships that drive Africa’s worst epidemics. In these, most HIV infections are found in general populations, not in high-risk groups such as sex workers, gay men or persons who inject drugs. And in significant proportions of African populations, people have two or more regular sex partners who overlap in time. In Botswana, which has one of the world’s highest HIV rates, 43 percent of men and 17 percent of women surveyed had two or more regular sex partners in the previous year.

    These ongoing multiple concurrent sex partnerships resemble a giant, invisible web of relationships through which HIV/AIDS spreads. A study in Malawi showed that even though the average number of sexual partners was only slightly over two, fully two-thirds of this population was interconnected through such networks of overlapping, ongoing relationships.

    So what has worked in Africa? Strategies that break up these multiple and concurrent sexual networks — or, in plain language, faithful mutual monogamy or at least reduction in numbers of partners, especially concurrent ones. “Closed” or faithful polygamy can work as well.

    In Uganda’s early, largely home-grown AIDS program, which began in 1986, the focus was on “Sticking to One Partner” or “Zero Grazing” (which meant remaining faithful within a polygamous marriage) and “Loving Faithfully.” These simple messages worked. More recently, the two countries with the highest HIV infection rates, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns that discourage people from having multiple and concurrent sexual partners.

    Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship. This was a key point in a 2004 “consensus statement” published and endorsed by some 150 global AIDS experts, including representatives the United Nations, World Health Organization and World Bank. These experts also affirmed that for sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity. Moreover, liberals and conservatives agree that condoms cannot address challenges that remain critical in Africa such as cross-generational sex, gender inequality and an end to domestic violence, rape and sexual coercion.

    Surely it’s time to start providing more evidence-based AIDS prevention in Africa.

    The writer is a senior research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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