Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Common sense and not "Condom sense"

What can we learn from South Africa?

Recently, as quoted in Zenith, Carrie Gress had an interview With Bishop Hugh Slattery of Tzaneen, South Africa:

Condoms are not an effective solution in the fight against AIDS, says Bishop Hugh Slattery, and the situation in South Africa proves it.

Bishop Slattery: The situation in this province is by no means the worst in the country -- that distinction belongs to KwaZulu Natal. The situation, however, is really bad throughout the country and continues to get worse. The Limpopo Province is one of the poorest in the country. In the adult population, aged 15 and up, the HIV/AIDS prevalence is around 20%.

The vast majority of the people living with the disease are totally unaware that they have got it and so it continues to spread at an alarming rate.It has recently been predicted that if HIV/AIDS continues to spread at its present rate, a girl 15 years of age in South Africa today has a 50% chance of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS during her lifetime. For a boy, the infection rate is slightly lower. People are much more aware of AIDS today than they were some years ago, but often their knowledge is poor and inaccurate. This awareness and knowledge, however, seldom translate into action.

Bishop Slattery: Parents really struggle when it comes to giving appropriate guidance to their children. Most of them didn't get that kind of guidance when they themselves were growing up and they generally lack the skills to give it to their children.

The transition to democracy in this country has brought about freedom but at a price, especially for young people. There has been an aggressive promotion of a very secular human rights culture for everyone, including children. As a result, parents feel they have no authority over their own children and just let them do what they like. Sometimes children threaten their parents: "If you touch me, I'll tell the police!"

The government passed a very liberal abortion law in the mid-'90s, allowing minors to have abortions without the consent of their parents -- they are just counseled, but not obliged, to inform their parents. Despite the promotion of condoms in schools, there is a high rate of pregnancy among schoolgirls, sometimes as high as 20%.South Africa and the neighboring countries of Botswana and Swaziland have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in the world and also the highest rate of condom distribution.

The conclusion is inescapable that more condoms mean more cases of AIDS and more deaths. It is, of course, "politically incorrect" both here and in the Western world to even hint at the possibility that condoms may in fact be fueling the spread of this deadly disease rather than curbing it.

Today, because of AIDS, there is a deep sense of hopelessness and fatalism. There is a great deal of pain and suffering, of silence and shame, of anger and guilt, of confusion and blaming of others in families and communities. Our society is traumatized and paralyzed as the pandemic continues out of control and the number of AIDS orphans and child-headed households increases steadily.

Q: What are some of the creative ways the Church is implementing to stop the spread of the disease, especially given the pervasive belief that condoms are the key to managing it?

Bishop Slattery: As a Church, we are trying to lift the veil of secrecy and denial around HIV/AIDS and get people to talk about it openly. It is certainly difficult to do this, especially with men. People are totally brainwashed into believing that in fact there is no real crisis. They see that a lot of the younger generation are dying but are told that people get AIDS because they don't use the condom correctly to have "safe sex." Behind this is the widespread belief that people who die of AIDS have been bewitched. The first and decisive step is to try and convince people that there is a problem…The next step is to show people in a convincing manner that there is also an answer….abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage will quickly stop the spread of AIDS.

Uganda was the first country to really take a strong stand against the AIDS pandemic from the early '90s. The strong and clear leadership of President Museveni was the decisive element in bringing down the spread of HIV/AIDS from over 25% to 6%. He preached "common sense" and not "condom sense" as he mobilized his country in promoting abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage as cultural values. He said, "I have emphasized a return to our cultural values that emphasized fidelity and condemned premarital and extramarital sex." Uganda is rightly held up as a model for Africa and the world in stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Frequently, however, especially in the Western media, the reason for Uganda's success is not given truthfully. It is falsely claimed that condom promotion was the main reason for the country's success. This misrepresentation along with the aggressive and dishonest promotion of condoms seem to be the main reasons why other countries have been rather slow in following Uganda's lead by opting strongly for abstinence and fidelity in the war against AIDS.

It is highly unlikely that World AIDS Day will ever have "abstain and be faithful" as its theme. It is a response that builds character, ensures good family life, costs nothing and has a 100% guarantee of success. Recently in this country, there have been some murmurs in high government circles about the role of abstinence and fidelity in combating AIDS. Hopefully, the murmurs will increase and convictions will grow stronger about this foolproof solution as we look to Uganda for inspiration in turning back the onslaught of AIDS.

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