During Africa Visit, Pope Knocks Condoms for HIV Prevention

By Rachel Cernansky | March 17, 2009 3:07 pm

Pope BenedictBefore his plane even touched the ground, Pope Benedict XVI sparked a controversy on his first trip to Africa by denouncing the use of condoms and saying they even exacerbate the AIDS crisis. Despite insisting that the church is in the forefront of the battle against AIDS in Africa [AP], during his flight to Cameroon the Pope told reporters that AIDS is “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem” [BBC]. Instead, the solution lies in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer” [AFP].

The seven-day pilgrimage is Benedict’s first trip as pontiff to Africa, the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic Church [AP]. But the Vatican’s controversial policy on condoms continues to be tested on a continent where AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since the 1980s [Reuters]. With an estimated 22 million people currently infected on the continent, Africa is home to approximately 67 percent of the world’s population living with AIDS, and claimed a full three-quarters of all AIDS deaths in 2007.

To prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, the Catholic Church encourages sexual abstinence and fidelity, directly contradicting the efforts and advice of medical workers, who promote condoms as the most effective method of prevention. But the Pope’s remarks were not unprecedented. In 2005, during an address to African bishops visiting the Vatican, Benedict said, “It is of great concern that the fabric of African life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraception mentality” [The Guardian].

The comments have sparked outrage among international AIDS activists, as well as among people on the continent. “I am glad that he is coming but he should be here for religion and not other things,” said 29 year-old Calvine Noumbisi, who squatted on the side of the road [in Cameroon], selling rosaries, prayer books and incense rocks for a nearby church [Reuters]. Rebecca Hodes, who works for an AIDS campaign group in South Africa, said, “his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans” [The Guardian].

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Image: Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: Africa, HIV & AIDS, religion
  • http://www.PositivelyPositive.ca Bradford McIntyre

    The Pope refuses to recognize the harm the Catholic Church is causing with it’s refusal to promote condom use in the prevention of HIV and AIDS. HIV+ individuals have even been told by Priests and Nuns that they should not use condoms. Religious leaders who forcefully directed and encourage abstinence have stopped campaigns on the use of condoms!

    Condoms may not be preferred but the reality is they are now necessary. The use of condoms saves lives and condoms work to prevent the further spread of HIV!

    We know many of our youth are having sex and will have sex in the future. To teach abstinence without including education on the need for a condom and how to use a condom will lead to more HIV and STD infections. Education is the key! Condoms prevent HIV infection!

    We know that individuals who are told they must refrain from sex or make pledges of abstinence that they are very often ill prepared and a condom is not used when they do engage in sex. They become infected!

    We also know that we cannot rely on the pledge of fidelity. Many women and men who considered themselves to be in a monogamous relationship were infected by their spouse. This is clearly evident now with the increase of HIV infections among married women.
    Knowledge of and the use of a condom is necessary in relationships!

    Seventy five percent of the world population infected with HIV is heterosexual.

    Fifty percent of all HIV infections are women. The proportion of adults living with HIV/AIDS who are women has been steadily increasing. AIDS now ranks as one of the leading causes of death among women aged 20 to 40 in several cities in Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and North America!

    Studies show that anal sex is common throughout the world and in some countries 60% of adults practice anal sex.

    Condom usage is lower for heterosexual anal sex compared to vaginal sex.

    Many men who have sex with men do not define themselves as gay. More and more women are being infected with HIV through sexual intercourse with their male partner, unaware their partner is bisexual!

    Responsible sexual conduct means using a condom and if this is not being taught then many more people will be infected with HIV.

    Around the world the use of condoms is seen as a trusted weapon in the prevention of HIV infection, however, these efforts are often hampered by religious beliefs.

    We will not see change in the HIV/AIDS pandemic until the use of Condoms are a standard practice for all!

    Bradford McIntyre, HIV+ since 1984
    Vancouver, Canada

  • Vasyl

    …Leave it for religious nutjobs to undermine the efforts of people who utilize reason to combat a serious problem.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    Sexual abstinence worked to specification for Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s fanatic fundie Christian daughter Bristol – now a high school dropout unwed teenage mother (and Officially loving it!). How much closer to Christ can one get? Then again, would that be a good thing?

  • chris

    “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”

    I wouldn’t call the pope a nut job.

    He’s correct about condoms will not alone solve the problem and I would consider that he’s generally correct about abstinence vastly decreasing the rate that disease spreads.

    The catholic church has long held policy against condoms and birth control.

    All that said, with a problem as systemic as the HIV epidemic, you must truly attack the problem from every angle.

  • http://www.darrsandberg.com Darr Sandberg

    “I would consider that he’s generally correct about abstinence vastly decreasing the rate that disease spreads”

    Studies have shown that abstinence programs do not ‘vastly decrease’ the rate of transmission of any std. More than one study indicates that abstinence programs are linked to increases in transmission of HIV, in part because abstinence gets translated in people’s heads as ‘no vaginal intercourse’, creating an increase in het anal intercourse.

  • chris

    “Studies have shown that abstinence programs”

    I did not say abstinence programs, I said abstinence, there is a subtle yet distinct difference.

    Abstinence programs work against human nature, which is why they tend to fail.

  • yrag

    The deaths of countless trusting people is on this all too fallible man’s hands for purely ideological NOT religious reasons. If so many priests can’t control their baser instincts (preying on vulnerable children), what hope does most of humanity have?

  • eukaryote

    Abstinence generally decreases the spread of HIV? Really? I’ll bet mass suicide would also decrease the spread of HIV too.
    The fact that the pope has such an problem with condoms, without any logical basis, and will go so far as to spread misinformation that will ultimately cost human lives, makes him at the very least, a nut job.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    It’s sad to see this former Nazi sympathizer (though exonerated as doing it to protect his own safety and not really sympathizing – ben franklin said those who trade freedom for safety deserve neither, so make of this all what you will) is still a racist, and that the Church still seeks imperial domination for Europe of the African continent. He refuses to understand their culture and seeks to impose his own upon them, and lack of sexual safety in a sexually free culture is a death sentence as long as AIDS is still spreading. Abstinence does NOT work on a large scale because it is against life. Condoms work because they let us express our genetic imperatives (nature drives us to sex for procreation) but protect us from a horrible disease that has ravaged our population and thus genetic diversity.

  • islalane

    “He would hurt all mankind just to save his own
    Bob Marley
    One Love

  • Deanna

    How convenient that those who scream about morale when it comes to children being sexually abused, now scream against morale when it involves their own behaviors. I guess your bible reads “Thou shalt not fornicate without protection”. (I am not defending pedophiles, but what happened to that thing about specks in your brothers eye when you have a plank in your own!)Are you not setting a poor example for children by telling them sexual misconduct is ok as long as its protected? What do you say to your child when s/he is the “victim” of the failed condom? Is this not abuse, to let them have a false sense of security? Judge not lest ye be judged.—–agnostic

  • Deanna

    On another note, as for the pope caring for peoples lives, abstinence could provide 100% defense against disease, condoms are what? 97% or so? Who is gambling with whose lives?

  • Deanna

    By the way, children acquiring disease and/or pregnancies is due to the laziness of the parent. Thats right they’re kids, they are gonna do what they are gonna do. Well, not if the parent isn’t too lazy to know where they are, who they’re with and actually check on them! Do you leave a toddler alone with a hot stove? Nope, cause you know they’re gonna touch it! Duh people!

  • Bruce

    The Catholic Church has to come to realize that birth control is a necessity in the modern world. Refusing to allow people infected with HIV to use condoms has no basis on any system of morality, other than simply “The Bible says it’s bad.” Tell me, what does he expect to happen to a child born of an HIV+ parent? That child will live a short life of suffering and pain, a life that never would have happened had the parent used a condom. Abstinence is NOT a solution, as it goes against human nature. Sure, it will work for some people, and is a much more effective defense, but very few people are actually abstinent. The Church should HELP people, not condemn them to live a life of crushing poverty and disease. Just recently, they gave permission to use birth control….. If you already have several children, and are so poor that you cannot afford to even FEED another! This is WRONG.

  • Jumblepudding

    Because starving, unwanted children, a fraction of whom grow into impoverished, growth stunted adults have been the lifeblood of the Catholic church for about 1500 years.

  • Brian Mangravite

    As usual let’s just use this opportunity to bash religion. I would point out that, contrary to “common” sense on your part, Uganda, which once had the highest infection rate in the world — fully one-third of it’s population was infected in the nineties — now has an infection rate of 8%. And the Ugandan government itself credits an abstience program for that decrease. Whereas throughout the rest of the continent, despite condom distribution, infection rates have continued to climb. So, the Pope is right, and you’re wrong. Condoms alone don’t even come close to correcting the issue.

  • Jo

    Deanna, I find it unfortunate that your responsible and concerned parents kept you tied up and locked in a closet for the entire duration of your teen years. Perhaps a little exposure to the real world would have done you some good.

    However, your comments are so over the top that I may need to invoke Poe’s Law on this one.

  • http://ianitor.blogspot.com Ryan

    Nick, who called the pope a ‘Nazi sympathizer.’, would you have had the courage to perhaps face death as a teenager for not joining a mandatory organization? Please people, stick to the discussion topic and lets avoid slinging mud.

    I think that reading the full statement helps people understand what the Pope was saying. It may or may not validate it, but at least it will allow an educated discussion to take place. It is quoted in this article from Catholic News Service, the news service operated by the US Conf. of Catholic Bishops and presumably a good source for news on Catholic things.


  • Patrick


  • yrag

    “Condoms alone don’t even come close to correcting the issue.”

    To both Deanna and Brian Mangravite—nobody on this forum or in the larger world is proposing that and you know it.

    That’s simply another read herring thrown out by the religious right—All abstinence or all condoms—black or white—no shades of gray—just like the ideology from whence it came.

  • Bruce

    I couldn’t put it better. No, condom use is not and never will be a perfect solution, but abstinence can not be the only facet of an anti-aids program. While the Ugandan government may credit an abstinence program, I would hazard a guess that most of the benefit did not come from abstinence itself, but rather the TEACHING that went along with the campaign. The world is not the place it was when Jesus was alive, and while many of his teachings are good ones, not all of the still apply. The world was nowhere near as crowded 2000 years ago, and birth control has become necessary. It is long past time for the Church to acknowledge this, and focus efforts on helping people who live in crushing poverty, rather than teaching them that the only ‘good’ thing to do is never practice birth control, and therefore have many more children than they can afford to feed, pushing them further into poverty.

  • FILTHpig

    Wow. “The comdom is the Devil’s prophylactic! Now, everyone in Africa, STOP HAVING SEX!” That’s realistic.

  • Brian Mangravite

    YRAG – I don’t know it. All I see is 95% of this forum using this as yet another opportunity to bash religion. Now, IN THE REAL WORLD, countries that freely distribute and promote condoms have climbing infection rates. Whereas Uganda, with an organized program of abstinence has dropping infection rates. That’s real.

  • Bruce

    I’m not quite sure where you get your 95% figure… The people who are actually posting arguments, rather than comments, are not bashing religion in any way. Misguided, outdated practices yes. I personally don’t believe, but I do think Jesus was a great man, and his morals should be followed.

    As I said, Uganda has achieved the results it has not so much through abstinence, but by educating the populace about WHY they should be abstinent and protect themselves. Their children have stopped having sex at an early age, casual sex has decreased, and guess what? Condom use has gone up. Condoms are, and most likely always will be, an important part of any STD solution. Abstinence will ALWAYS be a better method, but is generally against human nature. The most important thing a country can do is EDUCATE their citizens. The countries passing out free condoms are failing in this regard, and their methods teach children it’s ok to go out and have sex, which they WILL do, with or without protection. The vast majority of AIDS patients became infected while young, at least partially as a result of that practice. I doubt anyone is arguing that this isn’t the wrong way to go about it, but the importance of condom use cannot be ignored.


  • Anne

    Do you people really believe that God is a little old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud watching our genitals!!!
    The false sense of power that comes to one with great control over the masses is an aphrodisiac for one with no moral code. God is within each of us folks…not in a church…
    Hopefully this will begin to open more eyes to the sins of this church. Most of the wars fought in this sad world have been about religion…as is now happening in Iraq…my ‘God” is better than yours. etc., etc… When will people wake up to the truth that is in everyone and stop giving their minds and wills to those that do not promote the true growth of the soul…but only want to control and manipulate others for it’s own material gain and expansion of control and power.

  • Bruce

    I’m not sure that’s what is happening here. I think the Church is just clinging to ancient beliefs, that have become outdated. I’ll grant that the power that comes with control over such a large religious organization can corrupt, and has before (Pope Alexander VI for example). It’s the main reason I recommend taking anything you read in a religious text with a grain of salt.. No telling what was put there in the past by a corrupt leader. However, I doubt the modern church would be able to get away with much, and I think that in this case at least is simply doing what it believes is right. Doesn’t change the fact that I don’t agree with them, but still.

  • http://mtba.org Mount Bachelor Academy

    sex is the devil. you must cleanse your soul from your previous sins.



    save yourself, join us at Mount Bachelor Academy JOIN US REDEMPTION

  • Rigby

    Have any of you actually been to Africa? Have you seen the devastation casued by this disease? Have you seen the sexual culture there? I have, and that vision is powerful and gutwreching. Try feeding people when you can’t stop crying. Try telling them not to have sex because we westerners think its immoral. In a country where it is a daily struggle to survive, people sell or trade anything they can. I have been solicited by schoolgirls – they laughed at my shock. I don’t fault you for wanting to save souls, but there is a real and immediate need to save bodies and something as simple as a condom has a HUGE impact. These statements by the Pope add the superstition and misunderstanding surrounding sex and the spread of disease. Abstinence is an ideal for western religion but, sorry folks, reality bites and clearheaded, purpose driven solutions are needed to stop this horror.

  • What?

    My response is to 28. Riby Says.

    I’ve been to Africa too. How can you say you’re trying to save bodies not souls. The way the epidemic has spread no one is saving either. They’re passing out condoms thousands millions of condoms yet the new number of cases rise on a daily basis. Abstinence and fidelity is not just an ideal for western religon. It has to be a way of life. It is the only way to cure and stop this epidemic. The disease is spread and propigated by having sex. Condoms may reduce your chace of contacting the disease(I say may) but it is not a cure. We have cases of those who wore condoms contracting HIV because of residual DNA left on condoms that found its way into open sores or lesions. Do you know of a sure way to stop the spread of aids. Stop having sex or have sex with one partner. Like it or not. That’s reality and the only purpose driven solution for this epidemic at the present.

  • Ian
  • http://www.cameroon-today.com cameroon health

    so after everyone seems to know whats best for Africans, i am interested in what africans think is best for them. Any takers?

    Cameroon, africa information site
    http://www.cameroon-today.com/index.html Cameroon, Africa


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