March 28, 2009

Harvard researchers agree with Pope Benedict on condoms in Africa

Well, I know, this is a minefield, but shouldn’t blogging be, in itself, a continuous challenge to prevailing views of what is worth debating and how (with what purposes and inclinations) it should be debated, of what is arguable and what is not, and so on? So, here we go and let’s strike a blow for a man who dared to say that “the scourge [of AIDS] cannot be resolved by distributing condoms,” and that by doing so we “risk worsening the problem.” Which provoked a most predictable and well-rehearsed chorus of boos from left-wing politicians, mainstream media and activist groups. By the way, perhaps Frank Pastore is right when he writes, in a must-read post at, that “activists can’t help throwing condoms, either at those who oppose their policy, or at populations dying of AIDS in Africa and around the world.”

But, after all, how could it be a surprise? Who knew that … Harvard agrees with the pope? Activists certainly didn’t, neither did Pastore, as he himself acknowledges, nor did I: Condoms don’t lower the HIV-infection rate, they spread AIDS, instead! Have you ever heard this before? And it’s also hard to believe, as Pastore fairly points out, that there’s a classroom or newsroom in America—and elsewhere, in the Western world, I would dare to add—where this has ever been discussed or broadcast. So, please, don’t waste your time, stop being so damn argumentative, just read what Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, had to say in an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online:

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.
The pope is correct, 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 a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the US-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.

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).