A catholic case for condoms

Why Pope Benedict’s comments will set back the fight against HIV/AIDS in the world’s most vulnerable regions. By Roseli Tardelli My close contact with AIDS began in 1990, when I learned that my only brother had been infected with HIV. It was the saddest day of my life. Immediately, my family and I began a ...

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Why Pope Benedict's comments will set back the fight against HIV/AIDS in the world's most vulnerable regions.

By Roseli Tardelli

Why Pope Benedict’s comments will set back the fight against HIV/AIDS in the world’s most vulnerable regions.

By Roseli Tardelli

My close contact with AIDS began in 1990, when I learned that my only brother had been infected with HIV. It was the saddest day of my life. Immediately, my family and I began a fight to alleviate his suffering. In 1993, my brother was hospitalized, and we were informed that the health insurance would not cover this type of disease. I was enraged. From that day, I started a fight that still moves me now: for justice, treatment, and freedom from discrimination for all those infected.

My family won our case against the insurance company in 1994 after a complex and painful battle. During that time, my brother spoke out. He gave interviews, talking about how he felt upon realizing that Brazilian society held deep prejudice toward anyone who was HIV positive. As a journalist, I encouraged colleagues to write about what was happening.

When my brother died that year, he left a vast emptiness that I have tried to fill by working for people who are infected with HIV. I created an association that undertook a series of activities including safe-sex workshops, cultural events, and the collection of more than 20,000 signatures in favor of requiring health insurance to cover AIDS treatment. The petitions were sent to the Justice Ministry, and today, insurance is required to cover people living with HIV/AIDS in Brazil.

But after a decade of work, I still felt that I needed to do more to combat the plethora of misinformation about HIV/AIDS. In 2003, I founded the AIDS News Agency in Brazil, designed to better inform media coverage about the disease. Each day, we send Brazilian journalists tips and suggestions regarding HIV/AIDS-related news, data, and sources.

You might expect that the vast majority of people would be well-informed about this terrible disease by now. But I have learned firsthand just how difficult it is to combat the ignorance of prejudice and misinformation — both of which are allies of the continued spread of the epidemic. Prevention workers know how difficult it is to change behavior regarding safe sex. We know how long it takes for an individual to be convinced that he or she is vulnerable to HIV.

This is precisely why one of the best weapons that we have for prevention is the condom.

So, as both a Christian and an activist, I found Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments regarding condom use and HIV deeply disturbing. You can’t resolve [the problem of HIV/AIDS] with the distribution of condoms, the pope said on his way to Yaoundé, Cameroon. On the contrary, it increases the problem. With just one sentence, Benedict undermined years of work from the activists, health professionals, and technicians who work in HIV/AIDS prevention.

Worst of all, those comments came at the beginning of the pope’s first visit to Africa, where 32.9 million people are infected with HIV, representing 67 percent of all the world’s infections. Benedict lost a unique opportunity to advocate for access to treatment on a poor continent where medicines are hard to come by. The pope could have been far more constructive, for example, merely by preaching Christian solidarity and a greater understanding and acceptance of HIV-positive people. Instead, his unfortunate statement stands against the scientific evidence; we know that condoms are the one proven tool to block new infections.

It is time to break with this hypocrisy. Catholics and, indeed, all Christians who have a commitment to life must join with those infected with HIV, their families, and anyone who has suffered a loss due to this disease. We must insist that His Holiness reassess his ideas.

Neither the church, nor the priests, nor the cardinals, nor even popes are immune to HIV. We are all vulnerable. So, I humbly ask Pope Benedict: At a minimum, the next time you go abroad, please refrain from comments that set back the fight against AIDS. Or stay in Rome and leave the advocacy work to us.

Roseli Tardelli is executive editor of the AIDS News Agency in Brazil.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

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