Friday, March 20, 2009

To An Impossible Situation That Shouldn't Last Forever

I'll give the pope some credit here. He's certainly right that getting men to stop cheating on their wives en masse - as is the custom in many African ethno-linguistic groups, especially those in which having sex with a nursing mother is a cultural taboo - would certainly abate the spread of HIV. As would ending the practices of polygamy, marrying off twelve-year-old girls, and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

But the pope doesn't know what he's talking about. Only someone who's never set foot in an African hospital would claim that condom use doesn't help fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Because it does. It works. When a country increases access to information about and reduces the cost of condoms, its HIV rate goes down. This is not in dispute. It works especially well when you hand out condoms in conjunction with campaigns that encourage teenagers to abstain and husbands to be faithful to their wives. But access to condoms is a key part of the strategy.

...The reality of the situation pushes aside ideals and pontifications from on high. It forces an immediate, imperfect response to an impossible situation.

It would be great if the pope's vision of fidelity replaced the need for condom distribution in much of sub-Saharan Africa. The cost-prohibitive nature of all forms of contraception and disease-prevention mean that these programs are almost completely dependent on donor financing. That money won't last forever. There will have to be long-term, local solutions to these problems. But those kinds of cultural changes take a lifetime to implement. Given that there is no evidence that condom distribution increases promiscuity - or the HIV/AIDS seropositive rate - in sub-Saharan Africa, it's ridiculous to claim that these programs do more harm than good. And the at-risk people of Cameroon and Angola and Kenya and the Congo can't wait for norms to shift. I wonder if the pope thought of that. {full post}
[via Texas in Africa]

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