Reactions, that is, by most of the big media to Pope Benedict’s
message in Africa about condoms. Their impulse is to misrepresent one
point, and hit it over and over to create a backlash.

Some sense here.

‘We have found no consistent associations between condom
use and lower HIV-infection rates, which, 25 years into the pandemic,
we should be seeing if this intervention was working.”

So notes Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research
Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies,
in response to papal press comments en route to Africa this week.

And what were those comments, again?

“I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be
overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans
do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing
condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The
solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the
humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal
bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true
friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even
through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And
these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.”

Reporters were calling this position “unrealistic and ineffective”. But experts?

“The pope is correct,” Green told National Review Online
Wednesday, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports
the pope’s comments. He stresses that “condoms have been proven to not
be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

“There is,” Green adds, “a consistent association shown by our best
studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’
between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower)
HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as
risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction
‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in
risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take
without the risk-reduction technology.”

Green added: “I also noticed that the pope said ‘monogamy’ was the
best single answer to African AIDS, rather than ‘abstinence.’ The best
and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple
and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior
change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates (the other
major factor is male circumcision).”

No wonder so many of those media outlets are going out of business or becoming tabloid-ish (or both).

And while, as Travis Kavulla writes
from Kenya today, the international media will ignore all sorts of
fascinating new stories about church and civilizational growth in favor
of a sexier, albeit way-too-familiar storyline, Green has some
encouraging news: The pope is not alone. “More and more AIDS experts
are coming to accept the above. The two countries with the worst HIV
epidemics, Swaziland and Botswana, have both launched campaigns to
discourage multiple and concurrent partners, and to encourage fidelity.”

Never mind irrelevant media. The ‘alternatives’ are getting the fuller story.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....