Vatican position on condom use and HIV scientifically incorrect - UN agency

Thoraya Obaid

13 October 2003 – A statement by the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council on the Family that condoms do not protect people from HIV is scientifically incorrect and could contribute to the spread of the virus, the head of the UN population agency said today.

"The fact is that when condoms are properly used, in conjunction with programmes encouraging abstinence and fidelity to one partner, they provide effective protection against HIV/AIDS transmission," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

"This position is shared by our partners and the international community. It is endorsed by international meetings, including the recent Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on HIV/AIDS," Ms. Obaid added.

She was responding to an interview of Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo broadcast yesterday by a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television programme.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN umbrella programme battling the spread of the disease, an estimated 42 million people were living with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, at the end of 2002. The AIDS epidemic had claimed an estimated 3.1 million lives in 2002, and an estimated 5 million people acquired the virus, it said.

"Wherever the epidemic has spread unchecked, it is robbing countries of the resources and capacities on which human security and development depend. In some regions, HIV/AIDS, in combination with other crises, is driving ever-larger parts of nations towards destitution," UNAIDS said.

In the BBC programme, the World Health Organization (WHO) said damaged condoms could allow the passage of semen, but it said they reduced the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent and were certainly secure enough to prevent passage of the virus, if not torn.

In a statement issued in August 2003, a senior WHO official, discussing HIV prevalence in Asia, said, "Condoms save lives. We need to vigorously step up promotion of this life-saving device to prevent millions of people getting infected."

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