Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pope Accused of "Distorting Scientific Evidence" on Condom Use

Here’s an interesting news story just out:


PARIS (AFP) – One of the world’s top medical journals accused Pope Benedict XVI on Friday [today in the U.S.] of having distorted scientific evidence in his remarks on condom use and demanded he make a retraction.

“By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue,” The Lancet said in an editorial.

“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear.

“But the comment still stands, and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.”

The London-based journal added: “When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.


“Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

The pope made the controversial remarks last week when he traveled to Africa, the worst-hit continent for AIDS.

AIDS is a tragedy “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems,” the pope said aboard his flight to Cameroon.


Image: Demonstrators show condoms on the edge of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square, in Rome, as Pope Benedict XVI was making his return from a one-week visit in Africa, Monday March 23, 2009. The pontiff on Monday returned from Africa with a final impassioned plea to corrupt leaders to let the poor share in some of the proceeds of the continent’s natural resources. The parting words followed a controversial first pilgrimage to the continent where the growing number of Catholics welcomed his ringing denunciations of corruption - while critics worldwide condemned his rejection of condoms to fight the AIDS epidemic. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Pope’s Message of Ignorance in Africa
Vatican Considers the “Lesser of Two Evils”

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Pope and Condoms - William Crawley (BBC, March 23, 2009).
Catholic Church Should Put Its Own House in Order - Betty Caplan (Daily Nation, March 26, 2009).


5 comments:

Spirit of Vatican II said...

Michael, what is most appalling is the way conservative Catholics, including African bishops, have rushed to the defense of the papal remark, accusing its critics of disloyalty. Kung accuses John Paul II and Benedict of contributing directly to the deaths of millions in Africa. The background to Benedict's thinking can be deduced from a zany article by Cardinal Trujillo proudly displayed on the Vatican website.

James Card said...

‘We have found no consistent associations between condom use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic, we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”

So notes Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, in response to papal press comments en route to Africa this week. . . .

“The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

http://article.nationalreview.com/print/?q=MTNlNDc1MmMwNDM0OTEzMjQ4NDc0ZGUyOWYxNmEzN2E=

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi James,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing the perspective of Dr. Edward Green.

I'd like to add to this important discussion the counter-perspective of the BBC's William Crawley, who has the following to say about Dr. Green and the complex issue of AIDS and condom use. (Note: I've added the emphasis to certain parts of the text).

Writes Crawley:

Dr. Green is sometimes described as an AIDS researcher in press coverage. We should be clear about his area of expertise. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Catholic University of America and studies public health strategies "at the level of population". He is not a medical doctor, nor is he a virologist, nor is he an epidemiologist. He is a widely-respected academic who examines the impact of various public health strategies in various populations.

In 2003, he published a book, Rethinking Aids Prevention, which challenged the general approach to AIDS preventing in the developing world. Specifically, he argued that the most successful strategy for preventing the spread of HIV in Africa was not the distribution of condoms but campaigns encouraging people to reduce their number of sexual partners. Monogamy was a powerful behavioural defence against HIV, he said. Condoms, though technically able to prevent the spread of HIV when used correctly, have failed, according to Dr Green. Why have they failed? According to Pope Benedict, condoms encourage promiscuity and this drives the AIDS pandemic. According to Dr Green -- who has no moral or religious objection to the use of condoms -- this strategy in Africa has had the counter-effect of encouraging people to engage in riskier behaviour while believing that they are protected by condoms. "This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction 'technology' such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by 'compensating' or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology," he says.

These conclusions led Dr Green to change his view on the usefulness of condoms in Africa. Notice that he maintains their usefulness in other parts of the world, such as the United States; he regards Africa as a special case for cultural reasons.

. . . The upshot is that [unlike the Pope] Dr Green strongly supports the ABC model in HIV prevention: "Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced". In the same year that Rethinking AIDS was published, Dr Green was appointed by George W Bush's Advisory Presidential Council on HIV and AIDS.

It is vital that we have a serious debate about HIV prevention and that we locate that debate geographically and culturally. It is wrong at the outset to simply assume that an HIV prevention model that works in the United States or Europe would necessarily work in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers who believe condoms are an effective strategy represent the majority position within the HIV prevention community.

Against Dr Green's concerns about "risk compensation", they argue that this points to a greater need for accompanying education programmes explaining the proper use of condoms and challenging risky behaviour.

The UN AIDS programme accepts -- who wouldn't? -- that "other components [of a successful HIV prevention strategy] include delay of sexual initiation, abstinence, being mutually faithful to each other when both partners are uninfected, and reducing the number of sexual partners. But the UN emphasises that condoms still play a very significant role and their promotion must be culturally sensitive: "Condoms must be promoted in ways that help overcome sexual and personal obstacles to their use. Complex gender and cultural factors can be a challenge for HIV prevention education and condom promotion. Due to gender norms and inequalities, young girls and women are regularly and repeatedly denied information about, and access to, condoms, and often they do not have the power to negotiate the use of condoms."

Against Dr Green's claims that condoms have been ineffective in countries such as Uganda, the World Health Organisation maintains that "recent analysis of the AIDS epidemic in Uganda has confirmed that increased condom use, in conjunction with delay in age of first sexual intercourse and reduction of sexual partners, was an important factor in the decline of HIV prevalence in the 1990s." This statement references a 2003 research paper exploring the Ugandan experience, "The Roles of Abstinence, Monogamy and Condom Use in HIV Decline", published by The Alan Guttmacher Institute in Washington DC. (Read the paper in full here.)

This analysis concludes that "positive behavior change in all three areas of ABC - abstinence, being faithful (monogamy) and condom use - have contributed to the decline of HIV in Uganda to sustained lower levels." It's a long way from that statement to the claim that condoms are making the problem of AIDS worse.

To read Crawley's article, "The Pope and Condoms," in its entirety, click here.

Peace,

Michael

The Gay Species said...

The prestigious British medical journal the Lancet did not think much of the Papal Pronouncement of Death:

"Whether the Pope's error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear.

"But the comment still stands, and the Vatican's attempts to tweak the Pope's words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward."

It added: "When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.

"Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide."

Frankly, I find the Papal Pronouncement akin to "mass murder" and a call to "genocide."

It's one thing during WWII to walk a fine line, it's another during a health pandemic to render people subhuman or murderers -- as the Pope has done. It's the most immoral, gravely evil act by a modern religious leader -- surpassing anything done by Muslims.

The Gay Species said...

Dr. Green fails to consider that "White Man in White Dress" made our ancestors slaves. When properly used, without white men pontificating, condoms are 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission that leads to AIDS.

He also is a Roman Catholic, a social conservative, and hardly an "impartial" observer.