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West’s Aids strategy is a failure, says new report

People light candles to mark World Aids Day in Kathmandu, Nepal (CNS Photo/Navesh Chitrakar)

Millions of people are dying from Aids because western governments will not accept that condoms are ineffective in curbing the spread of the disease, a forthcoming report by the Catholic Church claims.

Evidence shows that rates of infection have risen most sharply in those countries which have been flooded with condoms, says the report, because they encourage promiscuity. But rates have fallen in the few places that have encouraged monogamy and fidelity among married couples, it says.

The report, The Catholic Church and the Global Aids Crisis, cites research estimating that if, instead of condoms, fidelity and abstinence were promoted across sub-Saharan Africa some six million new infections would have been averted in less than a decade, with four million fewer Aids orphans created. Such programmes might have saved 3.2 million lives in South Africa alone from 2000 to 2010, and prevented 80 per cent of HIV infections in the hardest hit areas of the continent, the report says.

“The overwhelming body of epidemiological evidence tells us that we have very little to show for all the investments in risk reduction measures, despite assurances that they were the indispensible solution to the problem,” said the author, Matthew Hanley, an American public health expert who has worked on HIV prevention programmes in Africa. “Many would be surprised to learn that condoms … have not delivered as promised in the fight against Aids.

“They have, quite simply, not accounted for declines in HIV prevalence that their advocates had expected. Though condoms have been the priority intervention, and been promoted time and time again, they have a rather poor track record in general – for Aids in Africa as well as a range of other sexually transmitted infections in the West. Quite simply, each of Africa’s declines in Aids rates are most attributable to … changes in sexual behaviour – especially fidelity or what the public health community sometimes calls ‘partner reduction’.”

Since HIV/Aids was first identified in 1981 has infected an estimated 65 million people and killed 25 million of them. About 33 million people are living with the disease today.

Mr Hanley said that condom campaigns failed because they were susceptible to the phenomenon of “risk compensation” in which people who used them tended to be more promiscuous than those who did not.

He says that because condoms have a failure rate, even with “perfect” use some 12,000 infections are expected from every million people.

But the infection rate is in reality much higher, he claims in the report to be published next month by the London-based Catholic Truth Society, because people frequently use condoms either imperfectly or inconsistently.

Mr Hanley said that similar rates of failure and infection also exist in high risk groups in countries like Britain who are “knowledgeable about condoms and could not be more motivated to use them”.

But western governments continue to contribute to the spread of Aids because of their ideological commitment to “absolute sexual freedom” and a “billion dollar industry” in manufacturing and marketing condoms, he said.

“To suggest that people should limit their sexual behaviour is to cross the cultural Rubicon,” he said.

“Even officials to whom the public health is entrusted dare not contradict the prevailing ideological orthodoxy of modern western culture.”

The report provides evidence to show that Uganda saw a 10 per cent drop in the number of people with Aids between 1991 and 2001 after investing in abstinence programmes.
The rates of infection began to climb again when foreign donor agencies insisted on a family planning component in aid packages.

Pope Benedict XVI was severely criticised after he publicly doubted the efficacy of condoms to combat Aids during a visit to Cameroon in 2009. Among the few public figures to defend him, however, was Professor Edward Green, an adviser to US President Barack Obama and the director of the Aids Prevention Research Project at Harvard University.
“The best evidence we have supports the Pope’s comments,” said Dr Green.

Last year, the British government announced proposals to “hard-wire” family planning services into its overseas development programmes.

Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary, said that the Government planned an “unprecedented focus” on family planning in the poorest countries of the world.

A three-day conference on Aids held in Rome was preceded by an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, last week, also claiming that condoms were ineffective in combating the spread of the disease. The conference focused largely on how to change life-threatening behaviour patterns instead.