A leading HIV researcher -- and self-described liberal -- defends what the pope has said recently about condoms and AIDS.
I won't hold my breath for the secular mainstream media to notice, but that's what Christianity Today magazine reported on March 20 with its publication of an e-mail interview between deputy managing editor Tim Morgan and the director of Harvard's AIDS Prevention Research Project, Edward C. Green:
[Morgan]: Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?
[Dr. Green]: This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it's unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments — at least his major comments, the ones I have seen.
Green went on to say that, at least as far as African countries are concerned, Pope Benedict is correct that condom promotion doesn't lessen the AIDS problem (emphases mine):
There's no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the "level of population." This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population.
Remember, Green is unconcerned with theology. He's looking simply at the empirical data (emphases mine):
We are seeing HIV decline in eight or nine African countries. In every case, there's been a decrease in the proportion of men and women reporting multiple sexual partners. Ironically, in the first country where we saw this, Uganda, HIV prevalence decline stopped in about 2004, and infection rates appear to be rising again. This appears to be in part because emphasis on interventions that promote monogamy and fidelity has weakened significantly, and earlier behavior changes have eroded. There has been a steady increase in the very behavior that once accounted for rates declining — namely, having multiple and concurrent sex partners. There is a widespread belief that somehow Uganda had fewer condoms. In fact, foreign donors have persuaded Uganda to put even more emphasis on condoms.
In other words, there's some inverse relationship between HIV infection rates and promiscuity rates, which points to the benefits of preaching, literally, Christian sexual ethics -- sex only within monogamous marriage.