- The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Southern Africa has enraged South African government officials and groups fighting the AIDS pandemic. The Catholic Church had criticised South Africa's government for promoting condoms in the fight against AIDS "when it is clearly not working."
Cardinal Wilfred Napier, the head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Southern Africa, made this statement on Monday, criticising the government of South Africa for its promotion of condoms. Cardinal said South Africa should follow Uganda's example and focus its anti-AIDS campaign on sexual abstinence.
With an estimated 10 percent of South Africans being Catholics, the message from the Bishops' Conference has certain weight in the country, which has the largest number of HIV infected persons in the world. For the government and AIDS activist, the Catholic Church's message is only creating unwanted confusion.
The South African Ministry of Health yesterday afternoon in a statement said "it is sad that the head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Southern Africa has criticised government for implementing one of the few methods of preventing the transmission of HIV." South Africa nevertheless appreciated the important work of the church in "promoting prevention and providing care and support to those who are infected and affected by HIV and AIDS."
- The overwhelming scientific evidence that is currently available to us indicates that correct use of condoms is protecting people from many sexually transmitted infections including HIV as well as in preventing unwanted pregnancies, the South African Ministry of Health said in its statement.
The Ministry pointed to the fact that South Africa is a democratic and secular state, guaranteeing citizens the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief, also when it comes to the AIDS crisis. It was nevertheless "necessary to understand that government's responsibility is much broader than that of the Catholic Church." The government had to "inform our people of ALL the options available to them to prevent HIV infection."
- Therefore our message remains as follows, the statement said: "Abstain for as long as you can; Be faithful to your partner; And use a condom." The government's condom distribution had increased dramatically lately, and would continue to do so, the Ministry added.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), South Africa's major activist group fighting the AIDS pandemic, was less diplomatic in its rejection of the Catholic Church's view than the national government. TAC spokesman Denis Matwa told the press in South Africa that Cardinal Napier was "coming with a stupid message."
TAC, which is pressuring South Africa's government to make even more condoms available, holds that South Africa is "a very sexually active nation." The group has been campaigning for the use of condoms for years in a society that is saturated of sexual taboos while still very sexually active.
Especially men in the poorer layers of society do not easily accept the use of condoms, Mr Matwa said. Cardinal Napier, being an influential man, could have set back AIDS prevention work by years, the TAC representative held.
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