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Pope claims that condoms exacerbate HIV and AIDS problem

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1206 (Published 25 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1206
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. 1Washington, DC

    Pope Benedict XVI has disparaged the use of condoms as a tool to rein in the AIDS pandemic. “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters travelling with him on his first trip to Africa. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

    The 81 year old pontiff said that abstinence and fidelity within marriage were the solutions in the fight against AIDS.

    Numerous African clergy and lay people have long urged the pope to ease the Catholic church’s prohibition on condom use within the context of HIV prevention.

    Criticisms of the pope’s comments were immediate. A spokeswoman for the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said, “The pope’s comments are irresponsible. The evidence that consistent condom use is effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission is incontrovertible.” Rebecca Hodes cited several studies showing that condoms, when used properly and consistently, can be highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV.

    She said that the pope’s “opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans.”

    A New York Times editorial on 17 March said that the pope “deserves no credence when he distorts scientific findings about the value of condoms in slowing the spread of the AIDS virus” (www.nytimes.com, “The pope on condoms and AIDS”).

    It called his statement “grievously wrong.” Citing a meta-analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration, it said: “There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.”

    In the United Kingdom The Times echoed that position. It called the pope’s views “a threat to public health . . . [and a] guaranteed prescription for more funerals” (www.timesonline.co.uk, 18 Mar, “Aids and the Vatican”).

    Michel Kazatchkine, head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, told France Inter radio that the pope’s remarks “are unacceptable—it’s a denial of the epidemic.”

    Several foreign governments have taken the unusual step of criticising the Vatican. Belgium’s health minister, Laurette Onkelinx, said that the pope’s view reflects “a dangerous doctrinaire vision . . . [that] could demolish years of prevention and education and may endanger many human lives.”

    A spokesman for France’s foreign ministry, Eric Chevalier, said, “While it is not up to us to pass judgment on church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life.”

    The US group Catholics for Choice commissioned an independent poll in five nations in 2007 (www.catholicsforchoice.org/documents/BRSPOLLFINAL1.pdf). To the statement “Using condoms is prolife because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS” it found support ranging from 59% in Ghana to 90% in Mexico. The Philippines (77%), United States (79%), and Ireland (86%) were the other nations polled.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1206

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