Pope in Africa: Condoms Increase AIDS Problem

22 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live with AIDS, that’s about 5% of the adult population. 1.5 million adults and children die each year from the disease. Each of these infections and deaths are individual human tragedies, but taken together AIDS exerts a heavy toll on fragile health care systems of these poor countries.

To their credit, a number of sub-Saharan African countries are facing the AIDS epidemic head on. Central to these efforts are vast public information campaigns on how condoms can prevent AIDS. For example, I snapped the picture you see here on the side of a road in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last November. And while I don’t speak Amharic, I think you get picture.

So, on the one hand you have governments trying to do the right thing and educate their people about condoms. On the other hand, you have comments that disparage the use of condoms coming from hugely influential outsiders. To wit, Pope Benedict is visiting Africa today, his first visit to the continent as head of the Catholic Church. En route, he had this to say about AIDS.

“The problem cannot be overcome by distributing condoms. It only increases the problem,” the pontiff told reporters on board the plane headed for Africa.

Two million people died last year because they did not use condoms during sex. Now, I understand that the Pope’s religious mores prevent him from advocating any kind of contraception. But is it too much to ask that if you cannot be part of the solution, at least don’t be part of the problem?