AIDS activists accused the Pope of spreading “blatant falsehoods” on Wednesday after he claimed that condoms are worsening Africa’s devastating HIV epidemic.
Kicking off a seven-day tour of the continent on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “You can’t resolve Aids with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”
He claimed that the solution lay in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”
The World Health Organisation position is that “consistent and correct” condom usage reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent.
An estimated 22 million people in Africa have HIV, the virus that leads to Aids, and three-quarters of all Aids deaths in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa.
Drawing on her 10-year experience of preventing and treating HIV in South Africa, Cape Town Treatment Action Campaign head of policy Rebecca Hodes stressed that condoms are “one of the only evidence-based means of preventing HIV available to us in Africa.
“There is very little evidence to support abstinence-only education campaigns as a means of preventing HIV,” Ms Hodes pointed out, declaring emphatically: “Condoms work in preventing HIV.”
She warned that the pope’s statement “is likely ultimately to lead to new infections because people will not stop having sex. Instead, they will stop having protected sex.”
Italian gay-rights group Archigay activist Aurelio Mancuso agreed, warning that the pope’s comments “contribute to the spread of the disease and especially in Africa, where there are not enough medical resources to treat patients.”
In Washington, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organisation the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) accused the pope of “hurting people in the name of Jesus.”
HRC religion and faith director Harry Knox described it as “morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods on a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV.
“The Pope’s rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community,” Mr Knox warned.
“Jesus was about helping the marginalised and downtrodden, not harming them further,” he said.