By Seth Richardson
Last week The Lancet, a British medical journal, attacked Pope Benedict XVI for stating that HIV/AIDS in Africa “cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms: on the contrary, they increase it.” In an editorial reply, the Lancet accused the Pope of putting Catholic ideology above the suffering of AIDS victims.
“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear. … When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”
The problem with The Lancet’s statement is that Pope Benedict is right, and they are wrong. The Pope did not make a false scientific statement. It is a scientific fact that a combined program of chastity, abstinence, monogamy, and condom availability has succeeded in reducing AIDS rates in Uganda dramatically. All the religion bashing on earth will not change the fact that the Pope was speaking the truth, and that he is supported by science.
The Lancet’s editorial excoriation was long on abuse and short on fact. The Lancet wrote, “But, by saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue.
UNAIDS, the UN Population Fund, and WHO released an updated position statement on HIV prevention and condoms, which said that ‘the male latex condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV’.”
This statement is technically true but deliberately deceptive, and is thus a distortion on the part of The Lancet and the WHO. It is true that the condom is the single, most efficient, available technology to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV. But technology is not the only, or even axiomatically the best way to reduce HIV transmission, which is what Pope Benedict understands. Behavioral modification, combined with technology is demonstrably the best way to reduce HIV transmission.
Although condoms are presently the best technology available, that’s not saying much, because it merely means that science doesn’t have any better technological solutions than a method of birth control that was superseded by chemistry more than 30 years ago, and which eclipses the effectiveness of condoms for preventing pregnancy. Unfortunately, no better technological solution is available for HIV/AIDS. But that’s not the Pope’s fault, now is it?
Factually, condoms are not entirely effective at preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS either, as is demonstrated by the 24 percent AIDS rates in Botswana. Condoms have a known failure rate of about 15 percent even under ideal conditions with an educated user fully committed to proper condom use one-hundred percent of the time. But condom use in Africa very rarely takes place under ideal conditions and condoms are often used improperly or not at all for a variety of reasons.
And then there’s the debacle of the WHO and other NGO’s supplying condoms that African men don’t like to use. Why? Because the standard condom is too small to fit many African penises. Also, cultural (read: behavioral) issues with sex and sex organs in Africa reduce condom usage. Then there’s reduced pleasure, unavailability at outlet points, cost, and other technical and social issues that reduce the effectiveness of condom-only programs, according to the International Conference on AIDS.
The fiction that the WHO and The Lancet wish to maintain, that condoms are the best hope for Africa, is exactly that, a fiction. Some speculate that it’s a conspiracy-based agenda driven by condom manufacturers and corrupt influences within the WHO and NGO’s, but that’s unlikely, though not impossible, because there is a lot of money involved in providing condoms to Africa, and money always corrupts.
The objection to the Pope’s statement indicates a significant anti-religious bias within the WHO and NGOs, as well as at The Lancet editorial board, which makes a point of attacking the Catholic church’s ethical stance by saying “‘Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear. But the comment still stands and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward. When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.”
But that’s exactly what the Vatican’s head of media, Father Federico Lombari tried to do, as The Lancet itself says: “On the Holy See’s website, the Vatican’s head of media, Father Federico Lombari, quoted the Pope as having said that there was a “risk that condoms…might increase the problem”.”
This is a factually true statement, and is, as the Lancet calls for, a correction, not that the Pope needed to correct the factually true statement he originally made. It is true that the problem of HIV and AIDS cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms alone, and that condom programs alone create a risk of exacerbating the situation. But the dogmatic “condoms are the best hope” contingent, which includes the WHO and The Lancet, will brook no criticism and will accept no evidence to the contrary, and certainly not from the Pope.
It is true that failing to address sexual behavior in Africa will increase the incidence of HIV transmission and AIDS despite condom usage by allowing an increase in the number of sexual encounters between infected and non-infected sexual partners outside of monogamous relationships. Pope Benedict was correct, merely supplying condoms does in fact constitute a risk of increasing the rates of AIDS over rates that could be achieved through societal sexual behavior modification combined with condom use, as has been demonstrated conclusively in Uganda.
© 2009 Altnews