Letter by Dr P Doherty
To the editor The Catholic Herald
13th August 2003
Condoms and the Fight against AIDS

“ Sir

The debate on condoms appears to have settled on two bones of contention: whether their use can combat the world wide problem of Aids. And whether at the personal level an infected person should only have intercourse with his partner when using a condom.

The recent admission by UNFPA that their widespread use to prevent HIV/Aids has failed would support the negative answer to the first question. It is supported by the firm encouragement given by Nelson Mandela to the “safe sex” strategy in South Africa where the use of condoms has increased dramatically over recent years. But South Africa remains the world leader in Aids infection, with 11.4 per cent of the population currently infected.

Dr John Richens agrees with Cardinal Trujillo that condoms encourage risky behaviour. Equally in Catholic Ethicists on Aids Prevention, edited by James Keenan SJ, most of the contributors are convinced that reliance on condoms is not sufficient to stem the tide. Among the many contributors, Paul Farmer, associate professor at the Harvard Medical School, reported on an extremely well conducted study in Haiti, in 1990, where the use of condoms was actively encouraged but the level of Aids did not decrease. He concluded that poverty and social inequality are the forces behind Aids transmission. An information campaign satisfied with advertising condoms treats only the symptoms and ignores the deeper causes.

Regarding the second question, whether the infected person should always use a condom we should remind ourselves of the findings of the National Institute of Health report in America, which noted that consistent use reduced the yearly risk of contracting HIV from an infected partner via vaginal sex by approximately 87 per cent.

This indicates that 13 per cent of acts with a condom are likely to promote infection; not a particularly encouraging safeguard in a marriage.

Although Cardinal Daneels ( Report July 30 ) is quoted as regarding unprotected sex in such a situation as murder, perhaps the above figures for protected sex might merit the charge of attempted murder.

It is all too easy to forget that the various contraceptive pills were introduced because of the inefficiency of the condom.”

Reproduced by permission of the CMQ September 2004