AIDS has extracted a heavy toll in the developing world and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Let’s look at the numbers: Over 42 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and 74% of the infected are in sub-Saharan Africa. By the year 2010, Ethiopia, Nigeria, China, India, and Russia with 40% of the world's population will add 50 to 75 million infected people to the worldwide pool of HIV sufferers. According to the previously mentioned site, there are 14,000 new infections every day, 95% of which in developing countries. The young are paying a heavy price as the UN estimates that the number of orphans exceeds 14 million while by 2010 it will have reached 25 million.
Within this setting, last week, Pope Benedict XVI, while making his first visit to Africa, re-emphasized the Catholic Church’s position on the use of condoms: "The problem of HIV/AIDS cannot be overcome with mere slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem." Needless to say, the reaction was strong.
Many agreed with the Pope. They say that condoms alone can not solve the problem that has reached endemic dimensions in certain countries. A change of practices, intensified sex education, an emphasis on monogamy, eradication of certain traditions and dispelling myths are necessary steps for alleviating the situation. What’s more, they have been proven to be the right steps as one can see in Uganda.
However, the second part of his statement has drawn heavy criticism. Major newspaper editorials spoke of an unscientific statement, a myth, a scare tactic, that should not have been employed by the head of the Catholic church. The Vatican immediately issued a statement to explain that condoms probably give a false sense of security and therefore abstinence was the only way of prevention. Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, answered that opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important than the lives of Africans. The Pontiff emphasized that abstinence and fidelity, not condoms, were the means to tackle the epidemic.
So, would you like to drop a line to the Pontiff? To agree or disagree, to make a point or ask a question? Do so in your usual polite and diplomatic way! At the end of the week I will forward a sample of comments to his Holiness.