Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 6, 2009
Ugandan AIDS turnaround supports Benedict
African nation has cut infection rate by emphasizing abstinence
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s newspaper said experience supports Pope Benedict’s comment that the distribution of condoms does not solve the problem of AIDS.
The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ran a front-page commentary that defended the pope against the storm of criticism that followed his remarks in mid-March on his way to visit Africa.
The idea that condom distribution can arrest the spread of the virus in Africa is an “ideological falsehood,” said the commentary. Published March 22, it was written by Lucetta Scaraffia, a journalist and history professor who is a member of the Italian National Bioethics Committee.
Scaraffia said World Health Organization studies show that the most effective anti-AIDS campaigns in Africa have been based on efforts to promote abstinence and fidelity in sexual relations.
This fact has been quietly accepted in the scientific community, but the “legend” continues about condoms saving Africa from AIDS, she said.
One factor is that Western culture does not want to give up “purely hedonistic and recreational sex,” she said.
“The condom is exalted beyond its real capability to stop AIDS because it allows modern society to continue to believe in itself and its principles, and because it seems to re-establish control of the situation without changing anything.”
The false sense of security condoms give can itself become a risk factor in the spread of AIDS, she said. She noted that when allowing for the “typical” use of condoms their effective protection against AIDS drops to 87 per cent.
A related article in the newspaper detailed the experience in Uganda, which has adopted an anti-AIDS program called “ABC” — “abstain, be faithful or use a condom.”
The Ugandan program has been so successful, the article said, because it relies first on promoting responsible sexual behaviour and sees condom use as a last resort.
The article quoted Brother Daniele Giusti, a Comboni missionary who has worked as a doctor in Uganda for 30 years.
Giusti said the condom has proven somewhat effective among particular groups like prostitutes, homosexuals and drug addicts, but not in the wider population.
“To say that the condom is the winning strategy in a full-blown epidemic that has spread among the general population is misleading,” he said.
The rate of infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has dropped in Uganda from about 15 per cent to about five per cent of the population over the last 15 years. For that reason, Uganda is often held up as a model for other African countries.
“Whoever says these results were obtained by using condoms is telling a lie,” Giusti said.
“The main factor of this success (in Uganda) is education and a change in behaviour,” he said. Ugandan young people are engaging in initial sexual activity at a later age, and the number of sexual partners reported by men and women has been reduced.
Even international agencies are now recognizing the effectiveness of campaigns based on sexual responsibility, and are changing strategies, he said.