.- Pope Benedictâs recent brief remark against condoms has caused an uproar in the press, but several prominent scientists dedicated to preventing AIDS are defending the Pope, saying he was correct in his analysis. In an interview with CNA, Dr. Edward Green explained that although condoms should work, in theory, they may be âexacerbating the problemâ in Africa.
Benedict XVIâs Tuesday comments on condoms were made as part of his explanation of the Churchâs two prong approach to fighting AIDS. At one point in his response the Pontiff stressed that AIDS cannot be overcome by advertising slogans and distributing condoms and argued that they âworsen the problem.â The media responded with an avalanche of over 4,000 articles on the subject, calling Benedict a âthreat to public health,â and saying that the Catholic Church should âenter the 21st century.â
Senior Harvard Research Scientist for AIDS Prevention, Dr. Edward Green, who is the author of five books, including âRethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countriesâ discussed his support for Pope Benedict XVIâs comments with CNA.
According to Dr. Green, science is finding that the media is actually on the wrong side of the issue. In fact, Green says that not only do condoms not work, but that they may be âexacerbating the problemâ in Africa.
âTheoretically, condoms ought to work,â he explained to CNA, âand theoretically, some condom use ought to be better than no condom use, but thatâs theoretically.â
Condom proponents often cite the lack of condom education as the main culprit for higher AIDS rates in Africa but Green disagrees.
After spending 25 years promoting condoms for family planning purposes in Africa, he insists that heâs quite familiar with condom promotion. Yet, he claims that âanyone who worked in family planning knew that if you needed to prevent a pregnancy, say the woman will die, you donât recommend a condom.â
Green recalls that when the AIDS epidemic hit Africa, the âIndustryâ began using AIDS as a âdual purposeâ marketing strategy to get more funding for condom distribution. This, he claims, effectively took âsomething that was a 2nd or 3rd grade device for avoiding unwanted pregnanciesâ and turned it into the âbest weapon we [had] against AIDS.â
The accepted wisdom in the scientific community, explained Green, is that condoms lower the HIV infection rate, but after numerous studies, researchers have found the opposite to be true. âWe just cannot find an association between more condom use and lower HIV reduction ratesâ in Africa.
Dr. Green found that part of the elusive reason is a phenomenon known as risk compensation or behavioral disinhibition.
â[Risk compensation] is the idea that if somebody is using a certain technology to reduce risk, a phenomenon actually occurs where people are willing to take on greater risk.â The idea can be related to someone that puts on sun block and is willing to stay out in the sun longer because they have added protection. In this case, however, the greater risk is sexual. Because people are willing take on more risk, they may âdisproportionally eraseâ the benefits of condom use, Green said.
Another factor that contributes to ineffective condom use in Africa, is the phenomenon where condoms may be effective on an âindividual level,â but not on a âpopulation level.â Greenâs research found that âcondoms have been effectiveâ in HIV concentrated areas where high risk activities are already being conducted, such as brothels in countries like Thailand.
Claiming to be a liberal himself, Green asserts that promoting Western âliberal ideologyâ where, âmost Africans are conservative when it comes to sexual behavior,â is quite offensive to them. Citing his new book, âIndigenous Theories and Contagious Disease,â Green described Africans as âvery religious by global standardsâ who are offended by âtrucks going around where people are dancing to âRock ânâ Rollâ, tossing out condoms to teenagers and the children of the village.â
Green also noted that there is an ideology called âharm reductionâ that is being pushed by many organizations trying to prevent AIDS. The ideology believes that âyou canât change the underlying behavior, that you canât get people to be faithful, especially Africans,â the HIV specialist explained.
One country, Uganda, recognized these issues and said, âListen, if you have multiple sex partners, you are going to get AIDS.â What worked in Uganda, a country that has seen a decline by as much as 2/3 in AIDS infections, was that officials realized that even aside from religious and cultural reasons, âno one likes condoms.â Instead of waiting for âAmerican and European advisors to arrive,â Ugandan officials reacted and developed a program that fit their culture; their main message being âstick to one partner or love faithfully.â
However, in 2004, Ugandaâs AIDS infection rates began to increase once again, due to an influx of condoms and Western âadviceâ, Green recalled. Western donors also came to Uganda and said behavioral change doesnât work and that, âmost infections nowadays are among married people.â Green said these claims are âmisleading,â pointing out that âmarried people always have lower HIV infection rates than single or divorced people of the same age group.â
Greenâs new book, âAIDS and Ideology,â to be completed in the next few months, will describe the industry in Africa that is âdrawing billions of dollars a year promoting condoms, testing, drugs, and treatment of AIDSâ and is clearly resistant to the idea that behavioral change is the solution.
Yet the two countries that have the highest infection rate of AIDS in the world, Botswana and Swaziland, have recently launched campaigns to promote fidelity and monogamy, the Harvard researcher said. These countries âhave learned the hard wayâ about the failure of condoms in preventing AIDS, he said, noting that âBotswana has probably had more condom promotionâ than any other county on a per capita basis. Green said he had no problem âhaving condoms as a backup to fidelity-based programs.â
According to Green, the Catholic Church should continue to âdo what it is already doing,â avoid âarguing about the diameter of virusesâ and cite scientific evidence in connection with scripture and moral theology.