BY SIMON CALDWELL
A BRITISH medical publication has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting scientific evidence by saying that flooding Africa with condoms could aggravate the spread of Aids.
An editorial in the Lancet said the Pope’s comments could be “devastating to the health of millions of people”.
The journal demanded that he retract the remarks, saying he had done “an immense disservice to health advocates fighting to contain the disease”. The Pope had said that Aids was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem”.
However, the Lancet argued that the condom was the single most efficient way to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV/Aids.
“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear,” said the journal. “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,” it said.
The Pope has received unexpected support, however, from the director of one of the world’s leading HIV/ Aids research institutes, who said his remarks were “correct”.
Last week Dr Edward C. Green of the Aids Prevention Research Project at the Harvard University again spoke out in defence of the Holy Father. Dr Green, a medical anthropologist, said: “I am a liberal on social issues and it’s difficult to admit, but the Pope is indeed right. The best evidence we have shows that condoms do not work as an intervention intended to reduce HIV infection rates in Africa.” He said: “What we see in fact is an association between greater condom use and higher infection rates. We don’t know all the reasons for this but part of it is due to what we call risk compensation.
“This means that a man using condoms believes that they are more effective than they really are, and so he ends up taking greater sexual risks.
“Another fact which is widely overlooked is that condoms are used when people are engaging in casual or commercial sex,” he told Il Sussidiario.net online magazine.
“So if condom rates go up, it may be that we are seeing an increase of casual sex. So, even if it is surprising, it is proven that a higher use of condoms is associated with higher infection rates.”