Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are the Pope’s condom comments scientific or simply dogmatic?

Last week, the pope made headlines but stating the Catholic position that more condoms does little good curbing the spread of HIV in Africa. Instead, this open-handed, mass-distribution causes higher HIV rates; not lower.

As we reported here, many, many people were quick to denounce the pope as speaking dogmatically and not from a position of science. Among many others, former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe said "To go say in Africa that condoms increase the danger of AIDS is, first of all an untruth and it is unacceptable for the African people and for everyone else".

It’s an untruth? Which real-world studies are the pope’s critics looking at? Professor Edward Green, director of the AIDs Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, apparently hasn’t read them. Instead, last April he release an interview where he supported the Church’s constant teaching on abstinence and fidelity as primary causes of HIV reduction.

“We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”

Professor Green said in the same interview:

“There is, a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

“I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other major factor is male circumcision).”

Professor Green’s comments may be read in entirety at the First Things Blog

This is one of many people who use science to determine their opinion; and they agree with the pope. It’s too bad that we won’t be seeing this in the media. It seems agreeing with the pope doesn’t get one a lot of airtime.

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