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Bay Area Reporter
Zambia's president questions the use of condoms
S. Predrag
January 11, 2001
Zambian President Frederick Chiluba has questioned the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS. According to him, "It [the use of condoms] is a sign of weak morals on the part of the user."

This statement immediately provoked criticism from many AIDS activists and some scientists, while a leading daily, the Post of Zambia, wrote that, "It is worrying to hear the head of state preaching against the use of the condom."

"I don't believe in condoms myself because it is a sign of weak morals on the part of the user," claimed President Chiluba addressing members of his ruling party - the Movement for Multiparty Democracy - at a meeting held in Kabwe, a mining town north of the capital city, Lusaka.

Although he admitted that, "Our graveyards are now bigger than our compounds because of HIV/AIDS," Chiluba told Zambians to refrain from casual sex instead of relying on the use of condoms as a protective measure.

"If you cannot abstain from casual sex then try to regulate yourself," said the president. In fact, Chiluba's wife left him late last year after she was allegedly involved in an extra-marital affair.

Chiluba, who proclaimed Christianity as the state religion, publicly questioned his compatriots as to why they would buy condoms when they knew that it would lead them to risk HIV/AIDS infection.

"We find President Chiluba's statement [on condoms] as being out of touch with reality which should raise worry among all," said the Times of Zambia in its editorial.

While the condom may not be 100 percent safe, wrote the paper, it at least offers a high percentage of protection from contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

In the absence of a real cure for AIDS, most scientists agree that the use of condoms, AIDS awareness, and abstaining from casual sex remain the best options in order to avoid infection.

"It is worrying and in fact frightening to look at Zambia's high HIV/AIDS figures and hear the head of state not helping the situation by preaching against the use of the condom," said the editorial.

Former President Kenneth Kaunda, who ruled Zambia from its independence in 1964 until 1991 when Chiluba came to power, recently said that Africa could conquer the spread of AIDS by fighting "the wall of silence about the epidemic" and raising AIDS awareness in every single village.

Kaunda, whose son died of AIDS, insisted that people must use condoms. "Even within families, condoms can be used to control births. "AIDS is a merciless killer that knows no boundaries. ... It is killing millions around the world - black, white, yellow, whatever their color, race, or religion," said Kaunda.

It is officially estimated that 650,000 people have already died of AIDS in Zambia. One million Zambians or over a fifth of the total adult population are HIV-positive, while there are more than half a million AIDS orphans (one in three is living with AIDS).

The Catholic Church in Zambia has used every opportunity to voice its condemnation of the use of condoms as immoral and has even expressed its outrage at HIV/AIDS awareness advertisements, especially those aired on television.

However, Health Minister Enoch Kavindele warned church leaders about "the high prospects of preaching to an empty church, unless we face the reality that the situation at hand is unprecedented."

"The church is blind in one eye because this issue of abstinence cannot easily help reduce HIV infections," said Society for Family Health Executive Director Nils Gade, who pointed out that HIV/AIDS is striking married couples as well.

It is expected that the debate on the use of condoms may continue, but activists can only hope that Zambians will take heed of the Post's final comment that, "Little protection [condoms] is definitely better than no protection at all."