Pope Benedict, who's beginning a tour
of Africa, has released a statement saying that condoms will not solve the
HIV/AIDS problem. In fact, he says condoms would only make matters worse. Pope
Benedict, like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, promotes abstinence.
pontiff's comments have brought strong and sometimes angry reaction from some
health agencies and advocacy groups. One of the organizations that's critical
of the pope's comments is the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), one of South
Africa's leading HIV/AIDS advocacy groups. Rebecca Hodesis the TAC's director of policy communication and research. From
Cape Town, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua
about Pope Benedict's position on condom use.
reaction is one of anger and sadness because we know working in Africa for over
ten years in treating and preventing HIV from the Treatment and Action
Campaign's perspective that condoms are one of the very few evidence-based
means of preventing HIV," she says.
says relying on abstinence to stop the spread of HIV is unrealistic.
"Abstinence-only prevention campaigns have very little evidence to support
their efficacy…. So what the pope says actually flies in the face of empirical,
scientific evidence with regards to the efficacy of condoms in preventing HIV,"
also rejects arguments that condoms only encourage people to have more sex,
saying, "There's very little evidence of that. It's just hearsay."
strong reaction from TAC reflects concern about how the pope's comments might
affect prevention campaigns in South Africa and elsewhere.
says the "pope is a very influential figure. He has about a billion followers
worldwide. It's important that our reaction is strong because we're an
independent organization. We can speak out," she says. Hodes says other
organizations having religious affiliations may not be able to voice their
concerns as readily. But TAC itself has
been the target of criticism for rejecting the pope's statement on condom use.
received an onslaught of hate mail this morning from people who obviously have
very strong religious convictions. But we have very strong scientific
convictions and we know that condoms work in preventing HIV," she says. Hodes
says there are more than 1,000 new HIV infections in South Africa every
day. "This is despite massive amounts of
money being spent on education campaigns which promote abstinence…. They first
promote abstinence, then they promote being faithful and then they promote
condom use. It's called the ABC campaign: abstain, be faithful, condomize," she
says because a lot of sex is coerced in Africa, abstinence is not always
possible. She gives an example of the demand for condoms in just one area of
a very poor area here in Cape Town, we have a person called the Condom King. He
hands out upwards of 500,000 condoms a month and he also gives HIV awareness
education. And he gives information how best to use the condoms. And the
evidence that we have found there, based on a study with Doctors Without
Borders, is that because of this concerted education campaign around condoms,
together with the condom access, there's actually been a decrease in sexually transmitted
infections in Khayelitsha. That is quite remarkable in an area which is very
poor, where people have a lot of sexually transmitted infections and have a lot
of transactional sex," she says.
is a large township on the outskirts of Cape Town.
adds, "People want condoms. They want to protect themselves. They want to
protect others and they want appropriate, clear information about the best
means for using condoms."
Pope Benedict is quoted as saying the
HIV/AIDS epidemic is a "tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that
cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates