Over the years I’ve encountered many medical missionaries in third world situations. None impressed me more than those associated with Catholic institutions abroad. In my experience these providers were devoted first to providing assistance and secondarily to influencing religious beliefs–in contrast to many other missionary groups. Most are pragmatic and effective.
In regard to the HIV epidemic in Africa, the Pope however, doesn’t appear to support this health-first attitude. His religious doctrine based pronouncement today en-route to Cameroons stated:
“you can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms.” He said that “on the contrary it increases the problem.”
“The Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of disease.”
It would be wonderful if abstinence worked. It’s simple, cheap and if used would be effective in preventing HIV. For those at risk, however, abstinence doesn’t fully meet their needs. They are for the most part sexually active, in many instances at an early age. With the prevalence of the disease in double digits in many areas of these countries, condoms become a reasonable way to decrease the risk of infection, and yes they do work.
Consider “discordant” couples. One person has HIV infection and the other does not. Is abstinence a realistic choice?
“The study, whose results were presented at the 15th conference on retroviruses and opportunistic infections in Boston, Massachusetts, found that of 36,000 couples tested, 96 percent of those in sexually active discordant relationships (where only one partner is HIV positive) reported not using condoms during their last sexual encounter.”
“The people we studied were in stable relationships – usually man and wife – and thus they did not feel the need to use condoms,” said Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, the lead researcher. “Even after testing, many continued to practice unprotected sex, saying that discordance was fate or that one partner must be immune.”
Condoms are an important part of the prevention strategy. It’s tragic that the Pope’s doctrinaire pronouncements may kill some people.
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