Pope words on condoms bolster AIDS fight in Africa
Pope Benedict’s qualified backing of condom use to help prevent AIDS marks a small breakthrough for efforts to fight the scourge in Africa, giving health workers and clergy more scope to broach a still-taboo subject.
News of the pontiff’s comments in a book came days before a U.N. report on Tuesday showed that even Africa was making inroads into the epidemic, with a fall in infection rates over the past decade coinciding with greater availability of condoms.
(Photo: Pope Benedict with book, 23 Nov 2010/Osservatore Romano)
“It does open the opportunity for discussion,” Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said of the pope’s statement, citing past confusion among many African Catholics over the Church’s approach to AIDS.
“These comments are positive in the sense that they correct the message he gave last year. Now we need to really spread the word right into the villages,” said Eugide Bashombana, HIV Officer for aid group Oxfam in Democratic Republic of Congo where Catholics make up around half the population and which has an estimated HIV infection rate of 4.3 percent.
Among the large Catholic minority in Kenya, where infection rates peaked at around 10 percent in the 1990s, the pope’s comments were welcomed by many followers. “As the world is changing and things are also changing every day, I think the use of condoms is a right thing at the moment for the young generation,” businessman Alfred Nalango told Reuters outside the Holy Family Basilica church in Nairobi.
De Lay believed the relaxation of the official line could encourage priests who for years have tacitly approved condom use, for example to protect a women during sex with her HIV-positive husband. “They will not preach condoms from the pulpits but they will not say anything against them,” he said. “It is not in spite of the pope. It is just a recognition that millions are dying.”