The Pope has been taking quite a bit of heat over the past few weeks in the press. The latest media frenzy is over recent statements he made regarding the Church's consistent teaching that condoms are not the answer to the AIDS crisis in Africa, or anywhere else in the world.
It seems like most people automatically assume that condoms are an important part of the solution to combating AIDS. It makes sense on some level I suppose; we're reminded constantly of the importance of having "safe sex", and how using a condom is the responsible thing to do. And I'm sure that condoms do reduce the risk of HIV transmission for any one given sexual encounter. But what are the effects over time? If condoms have a 99% success rate, that's still 1 out of 100 failures. I'm not going to bet my life on a 1% chance of failure. Something with a 1% chance of occurring in a single event, has a 63% chance of occurring at least once over 100 events. Let's say the prevention of transmission rate is 99.9%; there's still a 9.5% chance of transmission over 100 sexual encounters in this scenario.
Now, big giant disclaimer here, I don't know what the accepted statistics are on the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission, either in ideal circumstances, or in actual usage.
I do know that the chances of failure for something definitely add up quickly over time, and they add up fast.
So it shouldn't be a surprise to hear that, "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 full article can be read over at the National Review Online.
In two places I know of that have had success in combating AIDS, Uganda and the Philippines, the primary focus was on having faithful, monogamous sexual practices. And it makes sense why this works. If people have fewer sexual partners, then the risk of transmission in the general population is reduced.
So maybe the Pope is right when he said, "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." (my emphasis)
I think he is.
Thanks to Mulier Fortis for the link to the National Review article.