Vatican’s Denial That Condoms Protect Against HIV Endangering Millions of Africans, European Commissioner Says
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson on Sunday on BBC1's "Panorama" program said that the Vatican's position denying that condoms can effectively protect against HIV is "bringing into great danger the lives of millions" in Africa, BBC News reports. Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, recently published a paper claiming that HIV can pass through condoms, according to BBC News. Trujillo supported his claims using "scientific references" (Devichand, BBC News, 6/27). Trujillo said in a previous episode of "Panorama," titled "Sex and the Holy City," which aired in October 2003, "The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom. These margins of uncertainty ... should represent an obligation on the part of the health ministries and all these campaigns to act in the same way as they do with regard to cigarettes, which they state to be a danger" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/22). In response to Trujillo's statements, the World Health Organization said that although condoms can be less effective if they slip, break or are expired, a June 2001 review of the available literature on male condoms found that they are 90% effective at preventing HIV transmission if used consistently and properly (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/15/03). The Vatican prohibits the use of condoms for both contraception and protection against HIV infection, according to BBC News. Nielson said, "This is where bigotry gets into the big discussion," adding that the Vatican's position shows a "lack of love for human beings" and an "unwillingness to take their situation seriously," according to BBC News. The Vatican would not provide comment for the program, BBC News reports (BBC News 6/27).
The Vatican is "misguided" when it says that the "only realistic and long-lasting response to AIDS is a change in moral behavior," Austen Ivereigh, deputy editor of the international Catholic newspaper the Tablet, writes in an opinion piece in London's Guardian. Some Catholic aid groups say that HIV/AIDS in Africa must be combated by attacking the "roots" of the problem, including the sexual abuse of women and the lack of antiretroviral drug therapy, which they say can "break the cycle of stigma and despair which often lies behind the promiscuity and abusive behavior that cause AIDS to spiral," Ivereigh says. However, the Vatican's refusal to concede that using a condom "in some circumstances" may be "not just licit but obligatory" has "undermined" those efforts, Ivereigh says. The Vatican's "callous intransigence" on the issue of condom use to prevent HIV transmission has "muffled [the church's] own prophetic voice on AIDS and encouraged the conclusion that Christian teaching that can only be upheld at the cost of African lives does not deserve that name," Ivereigh concludes (Ivereigh, Guardian, 6/26).