The countries preaching abstention and faithfulness have seen a drop in cases
Giuseppe Caramazza Wednesday October 7 2009 The Guardian
Tanya Gold, writing on the proposed visit to Britain of Pope Benedict XVI, says: “Condoms can protect Africans from Aids. But who can protect them from Ratzinger?” (Ignore the bells and the smells and the lovely Raphaels, the Pope’s arrival in Britain is nothing to celebrate, 29 September).
She continues: “The Catholic Church has long pursued a no-condoms policy ? The former Archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, told his flock that condoms, far from protecting them, contribute to the spread of the disease.” These words are used to illustrate how wrong the official policy of the church is. I disagree. The church cares for the victims of Aids.
I spent 17 years in Kenya as a missionary for the Catholic church. Often I was called to talk to, comfort or just stay with a patient dying because of Aids. In response, I organised workshops to make people aware of HIV/Aids and I planned activities to help those infected and affected. I can assure Tanya that many Catholic priests, sisters and lay people do the same every day.
The condom might work in Europe; perhaps it does in Latin America. It certainly does not in Africa. Those countries that have chosen to popularise use of the condom ? like many nations in southern Africa ? are now fast changing policies. Those countries that have given emphasis to late start of sexual activity, abstention and faithfulness in relationships have seen a dramatic fall in the rate of new cases.
According to UNAids, in Botswana 24% of the adult population is infected by the HIV virus, in South Africa 18%. In Uganda, after a two-decade campaign stressing the importance of abstinence and faithfulness, the figure is under 7% ? a fact noticed by various international agencies, which are now quietly modifying their targets.
“Condoms can protect Africans from Aids,” Tanya claims. Perhaps, but what I do know is that the only way to stop HIV/Aids is to ask people to lead responsible sex lives. Offering the condom as a panacea does the opposite. Perhaps this simple fact is lost on people who have never set foot in Africa, but parading the miracles of the condom simply invites people, especially the young, to be careless with their sexuality and so become prime targets of the HIV virus.
If the church is against the condom, it is not because it wishes Africans to die. On the contrary, more than 50% of all projects targeting HIV/Aids in Africa are run by the Catholic church, with many more run by other churches.
“There are 12 million Aids orphans in Africa,” Tanya says. Perhaps, I do not know. But I do know who cares for them. Most of the thousands of volunteers who every day reach out and touch the lives of those infected, their families and their communities, are Christians.
The policy of the church is not the result of an obscurantist vision, but the realisation of a simple fact: the battle against Aids will not be won by condoms or antiretroviral medicines; it will be won by a change of lifestyle. It is sad to see that the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies (which thrive on a large number of patients) are always protected by western journalists who have no first-hand knowledge.
Giuseppe Caramazza is a Catholic priest with the Comboni Missionaries institute who spent 17 years in Kenya