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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
AFRICA: Pope Heads for Africa, Where Debate over Condoms Rages

November 16, 2011
Agence France Presse (11.16.11) - Wednesday, November 16,

Pope Benedict XVI this week is set to embark on his second visit to Africa as pontiff, arriving in Benin on Friday. In 2009, Benedict's trip to Cameroon and Angola sparked global debate when he suggested condom distribution inflamed the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But in a book published last year, the pope acknowledged that condom use is acceptable "in certain cases" to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to almost 70 percent of people living with HIV worldwide, and Roman Catholic charities provide much of the region's AIDS care.

In hard-hit countries like Swaziland, where 26 percent of the adult population is infected, some Catholic missionaries focus on saving lives, and not on divining the meaning of Benedict's comments. "As a church man, a lot of what you are doing is not praying. It is crisis response," said Father Martin McCormick, a missionary and founder of an AIDS hospice.

McCormick supervises 60 Catholic schools where 8,000 students are AIDS orphans. "If you have 8,000 hungry kids, you don't think back to the Vatican. You think 'human response' to what you see in front of you," he said. "I don't think policies or philosophies." Sister Diane Dalle Molle, a Catholic nun who also works in Swaziland, said she counsels and tests people for HIV, and "we can tell them what is available out there." "We don't provide condoms, but they know where they can get them," she said.

The Catholic Church's position on condoms is "unrealistic," said John Idoko, head of the Nigerian AIDS control agency. "Realistically, many people understand [condom use], but don't want to go against the doctrine - people just want to play faith," he said.

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