As I write, I am enraged... Enraged at the Pope who, while on his current trip to Africa has made a pronouncement that condoms could make the HIV/Aids situation in Africa worse. He claims that: "[AIDS] cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem."
I'm angry as a person of African descent who has lived in Africa, in South Africa in particular, and seen the serious battle that is being waged between those spreading the message of using condoms for HIV prevention and ill-informed people (including some senior politicians, high profile people, traditional doctors and religious figures) who insist on endangering African lives by confusing people as to what constitutes safe sexual practice and/or disease prevention.
I'm also angry as someone who knows how powerful religion is in shaping those messages and how much influence the church has on African people's lives. According to the Catholic Church, nearly 20% of Africans are Catholic and even those who aren't Catholic would still listen to the opinion of a major world religious figurehead. The Pope's statement is a major abuse of his position as a religious leader.
The Catholic Church's position on abstinence, marriage and chastity as the best way to prevent disease is commendable. There is no doubt that those are important things that the individual can do to prevent disease. Of course, if people didn't have sex there'd be no HIV. However, the reality is that there are many millions who are having sex -- and unprotected sex. In some African countries like Uganda, the sexual health ABC -- "Abstinence, Be Faithful or Condoms" - slogan is used in the recognition that for those who don't engage in the first two, the latter is the best option.
Preaching abstinence is one thing, but demonizing condoms is another. To claim that condoms actually increase the problem of HIV is irresponsible and dangerous. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact the relatively low rate of HIV in Senegal has been directly attributed to the handing out of condoms and to healthcare education which promotes their usage. Studies in both Africa and the U.S. have shown that condom usage significantly decreases the transmission of HIV, by up to 85%.
Furthermore, there is already so much confusion in many African countries about HIV and Aids that to add yet another inaccurate statement into the mix is deeply troubling. Confusion, myths, folklore, misconceptions and incorrect information about HIV are much more problematic in the battle against HIV/Aids than people using condoms.
I wonder what the Pope's motives were in doing this. As a friend of mine pointed out, he does not make such statements in the West. Why does he feel that it is ok to go to developing countries, where he surely knows that there are low rates of education and even illiteracy about HIV and Aids, to preach such dangerous messages?
The Pope is more concerned about his beliefs than about the lives of African people. Shame on him.
Follow Lola Adesioye on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lolaadesioye