Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Pope and Condoms - More Ideology Run Amok

With so many of us preoccupied with the AIG bonuses, Pope Benedict’s remarks at the start of a seven day tour of the African continent Pope: Condoms can worsen AIDS largely flew under the radar. But with an estimated 22 million Africans having the HIV virus that leads to AIDS, his remarks are no less important in understanding some of the attitudes around those who are involved in fighting this terrible disease.

"You can't resolve it [Aids] with the distribution of condoms," the pope said. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

The Catholic Church has opposed the use of condoms since it is a form of artificial contraception (like The Pill). So we shouldn’t have expected the Pope to walk off the plane in Africa and give out free condoms to everybody. But going out of his way to make an issue out of the use of condoms including saying that they increase the problem instead of the truth that they save lives is irresponsible.

Rebecca Hodes, head of policy for the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa's city of Capetown, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday they were "extremely angered and saddened by this ill-considered response from the pope".

"We know, based on over the 10-year experience of preventing and treating HIV in South Africa, that condoms are one of the only evidence-based means of preventing HIV available to us in Africa," she said.

"There is very little evidence to support abstinence-only education campaigns as a means of preventing HIV. Condoms work in preventing HIV."
And this is precisely the problem with those who cling to ideological thinking. They only care about consistency in their views instead of whether something actually works or not.

We had a similar discussion over abstinence-only sex education. VP candidate Sarah Palin spoke in favor of it; her daughter Bristol showed that it didn’t work. And then Bristol in her first interview since giving birth came out and said that telling young people to be abstinent is
"not realistic at all."

So who is hurt by all of this ideology run amok?
Certainly the people we are trying to help. It is more that just hot air that people can ignore if they choose to. Unfortunately, aid from different sources comes with strings attached. For example, the Bush Administration insisted on abstinence-only sex education instead of funding for condoms, as described in this article Bush Accused of AIDS Damage to Africa. And it is safe to say that whatever financial aid the Catholic Church decides to contribute, it will not be for latex condoms which work in preventing the spread of HIV.

But the other loser in all of this is the Catholic Church itself. When it tries to impose its rigid doctrines in ways that turn a blind eye to the needs of its people, those same people will inevitably choose to either drift away to another church or become what are known as
Cafeteria Catholics who stay with the religion but pick and choose Catholic doctrines based on their own conscience.

President Obama is
reversing Bush policies used in providing help to African countries but controversies remain since the issue of abortion is intertwined with providing condoms for family planning in addition to protection against HIV. And guess who is in the middle of all of this?

Contraception and abortion continue to be sharply divisive issues in many conservative African countries, especially ones where the Roman Catholic Church is strong, as it is in Kenya.

More than 30 percent of Kenyans are Catholic, including the country's new president, and the church here has been vocal in opposing not only abortion, but also any sort of contraception, including the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Abortion, except when a mother's life is at risk, is technically illegal in Kenya, as it is in almost every sub-Saharan African country, except for South Africa. But the World Health Organization estimates that 75 percent of abortions occur in developing countries, where the practice, though largely illegal, is widely available.

The WHO says 40 percent of all abortions are unsafe, and claim the lives of some 78,000 women a year. Forty-four percent of those deaths are in Africa.

In Kenya, botched abortions cause an estimated 30 percent of maternal deaths - at least twice the international average - and half of all admissions in gynecology wards.

We all have our ideology that we believe in. And we should certainly respect the views of others who believe differently than us. After all, those on the conservative side of this issue mean well. But clearly in this case, stubborn adherence to ideology is resulting in needless suffering and death for many Africans and that is unconscionable.

And finally for those who think HIV/AIDS is mostly just an African problem, there is this.

According to a city report, 3% of Washington, D.C., residents suffer from HIV or AIDS — a figure that ranks as the highest in the nation and far outstrips the 1% benchmark at which a health issue becomes a "generalized and severe" epidemic. The district's HIV/AIDS administration director, Shannon Hader, couched the severity of the problem in stark terms, noting the city's rate of infection surpasses those in West Africa and is "on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what I don't understand about the opposition of conservatives to abortion and birth control, is that poor women, who are most likely to need to limit their families, are the ones who will expand the welfare roles if they are forced to reproduce ad infinitum. And we know how conservatives hate to pay for welfare or any other social program.