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UNAIDS Director Says Pope’s Comments On Condoms Open Dialogue For HIV Prevention

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe on Saturday “told a Vatican conference [Pope Benedict XVI] had opened the door to greater dialogue with his groundbreaking comments on condoms and HIV prevention – even as Vatican officials stressed abstinence and marital fidelity as the best prevention,” the Associated Press reports. During the conference, Vatican officials “either glossed over or made no reference whatsoever to Benedict’s condom remarks,” according to the AP. Sidibe spoke of “a new possibility for working together, particularly in agitating for greater access to antiretroviral treatments for the world’s poorest patients,” and he cited new research showing early treatment can help reduce the risk of HIV transmission, the news service writes (Winfield, 5/29). 

In another article, Associated Press/USA Today quotes Edward Green, the former head of the HIV/AIDS prevention research project at Harvard University, who “says empirical evidence is increasingly showing that condoms aren’t the solution, at least in Africa where heterosexual sex among multiple partners in regular, concurrent relationships is largely to blame for HIV’s spread. … What works in Africa, Green says, is male circumcision and reducing the number of sexual partners – in other words, changing the sexual behavior that fuels HIV’s spread, a message the Vatican and other faith-based groups have long preached.”

The AP also interviewed Monsignor Kevin Dowling, bishop of Rustenburg, South Africa, who “says that years of sitting with women in their shacks as they or their children die had led him to take the nuanced position that ‘in certain circumstances, the use of a condom is allowable not as a contraceptive but to prevent disease'” (Winfield, 5/27).

PBS’ NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez reports that the Catholic Church has 117,000 medical facilities worldwide working to help treat and prevent HIV/AIDS (5/27). Vatican Radio also featured an interview with Green (Hodges, 5/27).

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