Medical Doubts About Condoms and AIDS Prevention

Journalist Speaks on a "Solution" That Has Failed in Africa

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Since 1989, more than 4 billion condoms have been shipped to sub-Saharan Africa, yet the number of HIV-infected people continues to grow at an epidemic rate.



This has led one expert to state that the exploding growth of the disease was one of the greatest failures in the history of public health.

Veteran medical journalist Sue Ellin Browder outlined the problem in the June issue of Crisis Magazine.

Browder asks why HIV and AIDS cases have steadily increased, despite the continued efforts to supply Africans with condoms -- the supposed "silver bullet" solution to the problem. Some have even argued that the Church is responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans because of its traditional moral prohibition on condom usage.

However, the emerging consensus among public health professionals, according to Browder, is that at best, condoms should be the first line of defense only for extremely high-risk persons such as those involved in the commercial sex industry.

One source Browder cites states the findings succinctly: "So far, there's no good evidence that condoms will reverse population-wide epidemics like those in sub-Saharan Africa."

In fact, Browder argues that countries with the most condoms per man have the highest HIV infection rates.

Soaring rates

Between 1994 and 1998, the number of free condoms distributed in South Africa as part of a national campaign skyrocketed to 198 million from 6 million.

However, statistics released in 2005 showed that between 1997 and 2002, death rates from HIV/AIDS in South Africa increased 57%.

Browder cites additional statistics from Botswana, Cameroon and Zimbabwe indicating a correlation between the promotion of condoms and an increase in infection rates.

Moreover, despite claims that condoms are a cost-effective means of reducing the disease, Browder cites evidence published in the British medical journal The Lancet indicating that the cost of preventing just one case of HIV/AIDS ranged from $11 to $2,000.

One effective means of reducing HIV/AIDS infection rates has come to be known as the "ABC" program ("A" is for "abstinence"; the "B" is for "be faithful"; and "C" cautions those who still choose to engage in risky sex to wear condoms).

An approach focusing on just the "A" and the "B" has been successful in Uganda and is now being adopted in other African nations.

Despite media attempts to undermine the program's effectiveness and attribute its success to condoms, one expert told Browder that the risk-prevention methods of abstinence and fidelity advocated by the program are "intuitively obvious" ways of combating the disease.