On his way to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday that condoms are not the answer to preventing more HIV infections on the continent. "On the contrary," he said, "it increases the problem."
According to Victor Simpson of the Associated Press, three-fourths of all AIDS deaths worldwide in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa. By all accounts, an HIV pandemic is raging throughout this impoverished continent and has been for some time.
Pope Benedict has an alternate solution in mind, something he feels will be more effective than condoms. He and his senior Vatican officials advocate fidelity in marriage and abstinence from premarital sex as the key weapons in fighting HIV/AIDS.
Well, that's a nice little fantasy that might do well in a Cinderella cartoon. In reality though, such a recommendation shows a ludicrous "head in the sand" lack of awareness of the social structure in many impoverished African nations, and the collapse of social structure as their resources vanish. In the deep poverty that characterizes much of sub-Saharan Africa, women often lack autonomy in their relationships, marital or premarital. Men decide when, where, how often, and with whom sexual relations occur.
In cultures that have been disrupted by the depletion of natural resources, men often move to urban centers seeking work, leaving wives or girlfriends behind, and beginning new relationships in the informal settlements outside of cities. Men pick up HIV in these settlements and carry it back to their villages on their return visits. If they can afford to return.
Women in urban centers, less employable than men, may live in desperate poverty. Unable to farm in the city, they may be forced into the sex trade to feed their children.
On top of these dynamics are traditional spiritual beliefs, held in some areas, that a man's immortality is secured through the number of progeny he leaves behind, which can encourage promiscuity among men who are forced from their homelands in search of work.
So now the pope says, let's suggest to them that they suddenly return to a society where they are all able to remain with their nuclear family, and practice monogamy throughout adolescence and adulthood.
Does the pope read books? Does he watch documentaries? Is he in any way in touch with reality? I think I'll try to mail him "Darwin's Nightmare," an excellent documentary about the collapse of normal cultural life around Tanzania's Lake Victoria, after the collapse of the lake's ecology.
Rebecca Hodes with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said if the pope is serious about new HIV infections, he will focus on promoting wide access to condoms. "Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans," said Hodes. Hear, hear. Well said, Ms. Hodes. If only the pope were listening, or interested.
What do you think, readers?
Source: Victor Simpson. March 18, 2009. On Africa trip, pope says condoms won't end AIDS. Associated Press.
Keywords:: pope AIDS HIV Africa condoms