Abundant data exist to show the severe limitations of relying on condoms to solve the AIDS problem. A letter from Australian-based bioethicist Amin Abboud, published July 30 by the British Medical Journal, noted that any change in the Catholic Church’s position on condoms would be detrimental for Africa.
According to Abboud, a statistical analysis of the situation in the continent shows that the greater the percentage of Catholics in any country, the lower the level of HIV. “If the Catholic Church is promoting a message about HIV in those countries,” he added, “it seems to be working.”
Data from the World Health Organization puts the figure for HIV infection in Swaziland 42.6% of the population. Only 5% of the population is Catholic. And in Botswana, where 37% of the adult population is HIV infected, only 4% of the population is Catholic. In Uganda, however, where 43% of the population is Catholic, the proportion of HIV infected adults is 4%.
Abboud commented that since the death of John Paul II there has been a “concerted campaign … to attribute responsibility to him for the death of many Africans.” But, he continued, “Such accusations must always be supported by solid data. None has been presented so far.”
Recognition of the value of promoting abstinence, instead of just relying on condoms, came in a commentary published in The Lancet last Nov. 27. Written by a group of medical experts, and endorsed by a long list of health care experts, the article noted that when campaigns target young people who have not initiated sexual activity, “the first priority should be to encourage abstinence or delay of sexual onset, hence emphasizing risk avoidance as the best way to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections as well as unwanted pregnancy.”
The article did support condom use, but also pointed out that even for those who have already engaged in sexual activity, “returning to abstinence or being mutually faithful with an uninfected partner are the most effective ways of avoiding infection.” This goes even for adults: “When targeting sexually active adults, the first priority should be to promote mutual fidelity with an uninfected partner as the best way to assure avoidance of HIV infection,” stated the article.
This argument is based on solid medical evidence, the authors pointed out: “The experience of countries where HIV has declined suggests that partner reduction is of central epidemiological importance in achieving large-scale HIV incidence reduction, both in generalized and more concentrated epidemics.”