The Catholic Church is teaching poor and vulnerable people in countries stricken by Aids that condoms do not provide protection against HIV/AIDS because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus.
If condoms cannot be absolutely guaranteed to block sperm, they stand even less chance of stopping the much smaller virus, the 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"The moral argument against the use of condoms is being superseded by a clinical argument which is flawed," said Steve Bradshaw, reporter on the BBC Panorama programme "Sex and the Holy City" that will be aired on Sunday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 programme.
"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.
Bradshaw told Reuters the programme 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 Organisation, 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 programme.
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 recognisable fact," he told the programme.
From Nicaragua to Kenya and the Philippines, the Panorama team found the same tale from the Catholic church -- that condoms can kill.
In Kenya - where an estimated 20% of people have the HIV virus - the church condemns condoms for promoting promiscuity and repeats the claim about permeability. The archbishop of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Nzeki, said: "Aids... has grown so fast because of the availability of condoms."
Sex and the Holy City includes a Catholic nun advising her HIV-infected choirmaster against using condoms with his wife because "the virus can pass through".
In Lwak, near Lake Victoria, the director of an Aids testing centre says he cannot distribute condoms because of church opposition. Gordon Wambi told the programme: "Some priests have even been saying that condoms are laced with HIV/Aids."Posted by tstubbs at October 09, 2003 06:37 PM | Trackback