Catholic Churches Say Condoms Don't Stop AIDS

Reuters, 9 Oct 2003 <http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20031009/ts_nm/religion_condoms_dc_1>

LONDON (Reuters) - The lives of Roman Catholics in some of the countries worst hit by HIV/AIDS are being put at even greater risk by advice from their churches that the use of condoms does not prevent transmission of the disease, according to a British television program.

If condoms cannot be absolutely guaranteed to block sperm, they stand even less chance of stopping the much smaller virus, the churches' argument runs.

The Roman Catholic church opposes any form of artificial contraception -- particularly condoms, which it says promote promiscuity.

But the traditional opposition is now being reinforced by arguments over their efficacy.

"The moral argument against the use of condoms is being superseded by a clinical argument which is flawed," said Steve Bradshaw, reporter on the BBC Panorama program "Sex and the Holy City" that will be aired in Britain on Sunday night.

"The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon," Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Vatican 's Pontifical Council for the Family, told the program.

"The spermatozoon can easily pass through the 'net' that is formed by the condom."

He said that just as health authorities warned about dangers like tobacco, so they had an obligation to issue similar warnings about condoms.

The Archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki told the program: "AIDS...has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."

While in Luak near Lake Victoria, Gordon Wambi, director of an AIDS testing center, said he had been prevented from distributing condoms because of church opposition.

Bradshaw told Reuters the program team did not go out looking for the story, but stumbled across it during research.

"We heard the same line so many times from different people in different places that we decided to approach the Vatican," he said.

The World Health Organization, guardian watchdog of global wellbeing, rejected the Vatican view.

"These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million people, and currently affects at least 42 million," the WHO told the program.

It conceded condoms could break or be damaged and permit passage of semen, but said they reduced the risk of infection by 90 percent and were certainly secure enough to prevent passage of the virus if not torn.

Panorama said scientific research had found intact condoms were impermeable to particles as small as sexually transmitted infection pathogens -- a view rejected by Trujillo.

"They are wrong about that...this is an easily recognizable fact," he told the program.

From Nicaragua to Kenya and the Philippines, the Panorama team found the same tale from the Catholic church -- that condoms can kill.

No official comment from the Vatican was immediately available on Thursday.

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