Fight AIDS with tools, not with rhetoric

Staff reports

To the Editor,

On 22 November in a statement to the 66th session of the UN General Assembly, the Mission of the Holy See to the UN reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s stance on the prohibition of condoms, “either as a family planning measure or in HIV/AIDS prevention programs.”  In the recently released Africae munus, Pope Benedict says that AIDS prevention is an ethical problem.  “The change of behavior that it requires - for example, sexual abstinence, rejection of sexual promiscuity, fidelity within marriage...demands a global response from the Church.”

Unfortunately, encouraging these methods alone to prevent HIV transmission is not only unrealistic, but also irresponsible.  Their success rests entirely on the piety of man and the willingness and discipline to forgo sex until marriage, hopefully to someone who also has forgone sex.  In a perfect world, this would be enough; abstinence is foolproof in preventing STDs.  But we know that man is fallible and many will not wait until marriage and once married may not be faithful.  In some African cultures, men are expected to be unfaithful.  In these cases, a man might not simply be committing a sin against God; he might be condemning others to death.  Wives are protected only through the good graces of men - men who haven't been taught about condoms.

I can see no logical reason to expressly forbid what is clearly a valuable tool in fighting a disease that caused 1.3 million deaths in 2005 in sub-Saharan Africa alone (out of 1.8 million deaths worldwide) and which was largely responsible for a nearly 20 year decline in the life expectancy of many Africans.  The success of the ABC program in Uganda proves that an approach including abstinence, fidelity, and condoms works.  If we are serious about fighting this scourge, we need such a comprehensive approach to breaking the cycle of infection.  I hope that the Church can eventually see that and lend its weight to it.

Halen Allison