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Condomonium goes to school in Rome

The Vatican is displeased with Kepler scientific secondary school in Rome’s decision Wednesday to install condom vending machines for students. To be in the girls’ and boys’ toilets, they will sell condoms at half the usual retail price.

They didn’t do it just to provoke the Vatican. The London Daily Mail reports:

In a recent survey of 7482 students in Italy by the Ministry of Health on sexual knowledge, 18 per cent admitted regularly having intercourse without using a condom, which officials said had contributed to rises in sexually transmitted diseases.

Other Italian schools and British schools are considering the same action. The British have an additional reason, again from the Daily Mail:

According to he latest figures available from the Italian Ministry of health the teenage pregnancy rate is six per 1000 girls aged between 15 and 19, compared to 26.4 in the United Kingdom – one of the highest in Europe.

Meanwhile, the long and sometimes strident epidemiology/theology debate continues, literally.

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March 11, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Education, Health | , , , , , | Comments Off on Condomonium goes to school in Rome

Condom faceoff in the Philippines

The Philippines National Press Club has agreed to host the condom debate between Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Archbishop Ramon Arguelles and Bishop Deogracias Ynigue. The two bishops challenged her after calling for a ban on condom ads and warnings on condom packages. As a condition of her acceptance, Harvard Medical School trained Cabral insisted that the focus of the debate be scientific, not religious beliefs.

This will be interesting, and perhaps so much more so for those who can actually be there.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | Health | , , , , , | Comments Off on Condom faceoff in the Philippines

Facing HIV epidemic, Catholic priests in the Philippines call for ban on condom ads [Update]

President Nereo Odchimar of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also called for warning labels saying “Condoms may fail to protect from AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

ABC-CBN News reported:

Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has come under fire from the CBCP for promoting condoms as part of the battle against HIV-AIDS. The health secretary said the distribution of condoms is part of the health department’s 3-pronged approach to combat the spread of HIV in the country.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed a total of 4,400 HIV/AIDS cases from 1984 to December 2009. Since the Philippines started monitoring the disease, the number of cases has gone up from 1 to 4,424 confirmed cases.

. . .

“At the rate we are going, in 3 years, we are going to have more than 30,000 people with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines,” the health secretary said.

The CBCP position is in keeping with that of Pope Benedict XVI, albeit not with the conclusions of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. Specifically regarding epidemiology, the CDC concludes:

Overall, the preponderance of available epidemiologic studies have found that when used consistently and correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV infection and reduce the risk of other STDs.

No, the world leader in matters epidemiological is not recommending a warning label or otherwise somehow supporting CBCP attempts to suppress condom use in the Philippines.

Update

Philippine political figures respond that a ban on condom ads might infringe on freedom of speech. According to INQUIRER.net, Senator Mar Roxas “advised the Catholic church to just prod its followers not to use condoms.”

The debate over ads is part of an ongoing furor over contraception in which the bishops earlier called for Cabral’s removal from office. They seemed to be especially offended by his Valentine’s Day condom distribution effort.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Pope Benedict XVI | , , , , , | Comments Off on Facing HIV epidemic, Catholic priests in the Philippines call for ban on condom ads [Update]

Faith-based condom distribution

The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have joined together in support of distribution of condoms and comprehensive sexual education by houses of worship and faith-based education institutions.

uccaidsnetworklogo

Their initiative contradicts recommendations which follow from Pope Benedict XVI’s plane-board statement during his visit to Africa that “You can’t resolve [AIDS] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, the UCC’s executive for health and wholeness advocacy, urges a more scientific and compassionate approach to the prevention of HIV. “The availability of condoms as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention sends the right message and more importantly, it saves lives.”

Shuenemeyer said, “The message is rooted in the belief that loving carefully is a moral responsibility. The practice of safer sex behavior is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.”

The United Church of Christ HIV and AIDS Network (UCAN) speaks directly to a key issue in the raging international debate over condoms and sex education, and is on sound behavioral ground, when it says:

There is no evidence that making condoms available promotes sexual activity. In fact, condoms, when distributed with educational materials and integrated into a broader, more comprehensive prevention package, have been shown to delay sexual debut among those who are not sexually active. Among sexually active youth, HIV prevention education programs have resulted in a reduced number of partners and increased condom use.

UCAN says making them available does provide “opportunities to open conversations that can save lives. In this context, condoms become educational tools.”

They are in good faith striving to follow the best available science.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Health, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sending condoms to the pope (and a message)

The 27 March Facebook group is protesting Pope Benedict XVI’s condemnation of use of condoms by sending him a few (tens of thousands, even millions).

27 March

The group had close to 30,000 members as of this writing. The organizers expect(ed) to send 60,000 condoms to the Vatican on Friday. Der Speigel reports:

Similar social networking groups supporting the condom campaign have sprung up elsewhere on Facebook, triggering pledges of participation from across Europe and beyond. Some estimate that deliveries to the pontiff may total 5 million. One Web site calls on people to either send a real condom addressed to “His Holiness” at the Vatican or a photograph of the contraceptive to his email address.

It was founded by Francesco Migliano, who described the effort in the Italian newspaper La Voce as “a peaceful provocation … a reaction to the pope’s absurd words on condoms.”

He went on to say of himself and other members of the group:

. . . none of this group believes that the condom is the “holy hands” to the eradication of HIV from Africa, but there is one thing that has never been emphasized: the Pope’s words were not in Africa. The condom is used throughout the world . . . no one should make it possible to convey the message that the condoms do not drastically lower the risk of infection.
Try a thought experiment: There are two large groups of people of both sexes. Each group is half and half not HIV-positive. Members of one group have sex using condoms. The group other does not us condoms. What do you expect?

The ongoing criticism of the Pointiff’s condom remarks has made some church officials unhappy. The London Telegraph reports:

Senior Catholics rallied to the Pope’s defense this week, with the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, saying the depth of opprobrium directed towards the pontiff had “been prolonged beyond good reason.”

What the critics seek, however, is the change of Vatican policy they believe reason requires. Thus the number of protest-participating Facebook groups is multiplying, along with the number of voices raised in disagreement with the Pope’s unretracted remarks.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Medical Care, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , , | Comments Off on Sending condoms to the pope (and a message)

Pope’s revised (again) but not actually ‘corrected’ condom remarks

Commonweal tells us the Vatican has brought the written record of the Popes comments on condoms back into line with events.

It did so after spawning an international uproar over the original post-facto editing of the Papal words. The Pope told reporters that distribution of condoms to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic “even aggravates the problems.” The Vatican published an official record which said condoms merely “risked” aggravating the problem.

The rollback to “aggravates” does not nullify The Lancet’s suggestion that “the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.” It underlines the Vatican’s problem.

Surviving ink-stained wretches, creatures of newspaper newsrooms, know corrections must be published with attendant apologies, not circumvented. The Vatican has merely made another “tweak,” lacking acknowledgment of and repentance for the original error. We all know that if we sweep enough things under the rug, our audience’s faith in our integrity will go there as well.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pope’s revised (again) but not actually ‘corrected’ condom remarks

The Lancet asks: ‘Redemption for the Pope?’

The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, calls for Pope Benedict XVI to retract his science-distorting statement that condoms may “increase” the HIV/AIDS problem.

Concluding, it said [registration required]:

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. When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, 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 unusually strong position indicates how badly the post-facto attempt to rewrite the Pope’s statement backfired, and how attempts to generate a scientific argument in his favor have failed.

Addendum

Dr. Kalpana Sabapathy, HIV advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) explains the medical value of condoms:

Condoms are the key to safe sex. They not only prevent HIV, but many sexually transmitted infections. And they prevent unwanted pregnancies. Sexual intercourse is a reality of the human condition. Promoting ONLY abstinence to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a naïve and unrealistic approach. A more attainable goal is to ensure that people behave in a safe way.

[More]

Pharyngula applauds, of course.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Health, Medical Care, Religion, Science | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Lancet asks: ‘Redemption for the Pope?’

Holy Re-Seeing

How did we miss the Vatican’s Wednesday condom backtrack? The London Times reported:

Emblem of the Papacy

On Tuesday he told reporters accompanying him on his trip to Africa that AIDS was a “tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”. Taken aback by outrage worldwide, the Holy See altered the Pope’s remark yesterday to read that condoms merely “risked” aggravating the problem.

This is not the first time the Vatican has put words in Pope Benedict XVI’s mouth. Backtracking followed in 2007 when the pope suggested that Mexican officials who supported legalization of abortion had been excommunicated. Reinterpretations were offered and the final transcript was altered to make it appear that the Pope’s comments were general and did not refer to a specific incident.

“Clarification” or apology following some provocation of public anger has become something of a pattern for Pope Benedict XVI, no doubt contributing to the Pope’s decline in French public opinion poll numbers.

In this case, Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, found the Papal revisionism hopeful. He said:

The pope has admitted that he is unsure whether condoms can help alleviate the spread of HIV. Where there is doubt there is freedom and Catholics can make up their own minds whether they use condoms or not. . . . We call on the pope to revisit the teaching on condoms with a view to lifting the ban at the earliest possible moment. In his review, he should include experts who are unequivocal that condoms can help prevent the spread of HIV, like UNAIDS, the World Health Organization and HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations around the world.

O’Brien also observed that the Catholic Church required “359 years to stop continuing the line taken by their predecessors on Galileo.”

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion, Science | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-condom evangelicals had their political way with Bush

Christian evangelicals pushed the Bush administration to an anti-condom position like the one which has called down fire on Pope Benedict XVI’s head. They even drove insufficiently anti-condom evangelicals out of the administration. Jamie Kirchick wrote at TNR:

Anne Peterson, an assistant administrator for global health in the U.S. Agency for International Development and an evangelical who had worked with Christian aid groups in Africa, incurred the wrath of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson during a 2004 meeting at his Colorado Springs headquarters. There, Dobson asked Peterson for her position on condoms, to which she replied that they were an essential feature in HIV prevention alongside the encouragement of abstinence and monogamy. Soon after, Focus on the Family issued a paper criticizing her, and she eventually resigned under pressure. Peterson was replaced by Kent Hill, an evangelical Christian activist with neither a medical degree nor public health experience, who is currently the acting administrator of USAID.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Politics, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-condom evangelicals had their political way with Bush

Death, condoms and abstinence in Uganda

Uganda is the false example offered in defense of Pope Benedict XVI’s claim that condoms “can even increase the problem” of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

The two-decade ebb in Uganda’s overall rate of AIDS was first of all the result of premature death of the previously infected. The AIDS incidence among living people fell primarily because so many of the infected died for lack of treatment. As the British Medical Journal reported:

“Death alone accounted for a six percentage point reduction in HIV prevalence in the one year,” Maria Wawer, a public health researcher from Columbia University, New York city, said. “Overall, the HIV prevalence over the last decade declined 6.2 percentage points. We estimate that mortality alone contributed five percentage points of the decline.”

Researchers found no scientific evidence that the remaining decline was due to abstinence.

Condom use, however, “increased dramatically” as AIDS incidence ebbed. Thus the most likely cause of fall in AIDS rate not due to death of the infected, was use of condoms.

Propaganda to the contrary via Fox News and other sources of obfuscation is a vote for death, in particular the death of the African women who now compose a majority of Africa’s AIDS-infected population.

adultslivingwithhivaids

Those women are in no position to apply the Pope’s homiletic advice about abstinence and responsibility. They lack power over their own lives. Michael Fleshman quotes UNAIDS Deputy Director Kathleen Cravero in the United Nations magazine, Africa Renewal:

“Across the globe,” she notes, “women, particularly young women, are not in a position to abstain. They are not in a position to demand faithfulness of their partners. In many cases they are in fact faithful, but are being infected by unfaithful partners.” . . . [They] are often unable to compel the use of condoms by their partners or are unwilling to even raise the issue for fear of rejection or physical assault.

“A woman who is a victim of violence or the fear of violence is not going to negotiate anything, let alone fidelity or condom use,” Ms. Cravero continues. “Her main objective is to get through the day without being beaten up. Real-life prevention strategies for women include reducing the levels of violence against women, protecting their property and inheritance rights and ensuring their access to education.”

It is no surprise then that on Wednesday when the Pope carried his anti-condom message into Cameroon, he was greeted with outrage. Alain Fogue, a spokesman for the Cameroon Advocacy Movement for Access to Treatment (MOCPAT), asked, “Is the Pope living in the 21st century? The people will not follow what the Pope is saying. He lives in Heaven and we are on Earth.”

On earth, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sound scientific reasons for recommending use of condoms to prevent AIDS transmission.

On earth, Uganda’s “True Love Awaits” program is a masque of death, misrepresented as a solution on behalf of Papal guidance for which sound, earthly, scientific rationalization appears to be absent.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , , , | 3 Comments