S. Africa Health Minister To Discuss AIDS Programs With Religious Leaders, Including Bishops Opposed to Condom Use
South Africa's Department of Health on Tuesday said that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang will meet with religious leaders in the country, including officials from the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, later this month to discuss "various issues of common interest," including HIV/AIDS, the SAPA/News24.com reports (SAPA/News24.com, 2/1). The bishops last month condemned the promotion of condoms within the country, saying the contraceptives fail to curb the spread of HIV and might increase promiscuity. Cardinal Wilfred Napier said there is no evidence that condom promotion works to prevent HIV transmission and that, as a contraceptive, condoms are not 100% effective. Napier said that promiscuity is more damaging than the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Napier cited Uganda as the only success story in the fight against HIV/AIDS and said the country promotes abstinence instead of condoms. "If we look at the one example of success we have, which is Uganda, then there is a clear message that it was a return to moral values that has halted the disease," he said, adding, "Where condoms have been promoted, we have not seen the effect we've seen in Uganda." However, Uganda promotes both abstinence and condom use and has made condom distribution a "mainstay" in its fight against HIV/AIDS. Napier also said that educating children and young people about condoms encourages them to engage in sexual activity (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/28).
Government Reaction, Tshabalala-Msimang Meeting
According to a health department statement released on Tuesday, the South African government "respect[s]" the bishops' opposition to promoting condom use as a means of HIV prevention but added that the "government is responsible for the health of all South Africa's population, irrespective of their religious beliefs," according to the SAPA/News 24.com. "Government has a responsibility, therefore, to inform South Africans of all the options available to them to prevent HIV infection," the health department said, adding, "Government has further assumed the responsibility to make both male and female condoms available free of charge to ensure that those who prefer this option are not exposed to health risks just because they cannot afford to buy condoms." Tshabalala-Msimang's meeting with religious leaders in the country, which is scheduled for the last week of February, will "seek to create a common understanding of the different roles government and the religious community can play ... to prevent and manage both infectious and chronic diseases," the health department said, adding, "The meeting will also discuss the implementation of a comprehensive plan for management, care and treatment of [HIV/AIDS]. Central to government response ... is a prevention campaign aimed at promoting abstinence, being faithful and the use of condoms" (SAPA/News24.com, 2/1).