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Babette Francis

SARAH Henderson's faltering faith (Herald Sun, Wednesday) distorts Catholicism, but her belief "condoms fight HIV" is also bad science.

And why does Sarah indulge in ageism - aren't the opinions of an 83-year-old pope who fought Nazism and played a major role in the defeat of the Soviet Union worth as much as those of a commentating company director?

John Paul II is physically frail, but his mind is clear, and one wonders why those who resent his views do not join a denomination that would give them all they want - abortion, contraception, extra-marital sex, condoms and homosexual clergy - In other words, the Uniting Church.

Sarah, you could even start a church of your own - a church with a condom-shaped steeple for instance.

So, let's get some things straight. The Catholic Church does not abhor gays: hate the sin, love the sinner is the guiding principle. It shows compassion, offers prayers and counselling.

Indeed, it may well have been because the church was too tolerant of those with a homosexual orientation among its clergy that it has been plagued with the epidemic of child abuse, much of it against adolescent boys by homosexuals.

This would not have been reduced by a married clergy, as is apparent from similar cases in the Anglican Church.

Second, the Catholic Church's approach to the issue of AIDS and condoms makes sense.

At a conference in Washington DC this month on the "ABC (Abstinence, Behaviour, Condoms) Approach to the HIV Pandemic", medical experts were critical of the insistence by some aid and welfare bodies and policy makers that the "C" (condom) approach would stem the tide of HIV.

In fact, they claimed availability of condoms statistically increased promiscuity and risk of contracting HIV.

Dr Edward C. Green, of Harvard's Centre for Population and Development Studies, said: "Twenty years into the pandemic there is no evidence that more condoms leads to less AIDS."

Dr Norman Hearst, University of California, supported this analysis with statistics from Kenya, Botswana, and other countries, which showed an alarming pattern of increased condom sales correlating with rising HIV rates.

Promotion of the "safe sex" message has reportedly increased numbers of sexual partners.

Green said the spread of HIV was a behavioural problem: "having multiple sexual partners drives AIDS epidemics. If people did not have multiple sex partners, epidemics would not develop or, once developed, be sustained.

"Over a lifetime, it is the number of sexual partners (that matters). Condom levels are found to be non-determining of HIV infection levels."

Hearst added: "We are raising a generation of young people in Africa that believe condoms will prevent HIV ... condoms are not 100 per cent effective, even when used properly.

The most recent analysis came up with 80 per cent. But even if it is 90 per cent, over time it's the question of when, not if. Abstinence and behaviour (modification) are better in the long term."

For example, while Thailand saw incidence rates for HIV decrease after the government mandated 100 per cent condom use in brothels, this wasn't the full picture.

According to Hearst and Dr Rand Stoneburner, formerly of the World Health Organisation, proponents rarely look closer at the data, and behaviour change had much more to do with Thailand's decreased rates of transmission.

"This is usually attributed to 100 per cent condom use, but visits to sex workers declined by 60 per cent. They did so out of fear and risk avoidance."

It is behaviour change advocated by the "A" and "B" approach that is supported by data, such as in Uganda.

According to Stoneburner, "declines of HIV in Uganda are linked to behaviour change and include primary risk avoidance with a 65 per cent decline in casual sex".

The Ugandan Government, which promoted abstinence and fidelity, helped bring about a 75 per cent decline in HIV prevalence among the 15-19 age group, 60 per cent in the 20-24 group, and a 54 per cent decline overall by 1998.

All of this supports the view that getting people to think about what they're doing is better than simply giving them a condom.





Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN