Two weeks ago the Pope made some dangerously misleading statements about the role of condoms in HIV prevention. He has stated, under no uncertain terms, that condoms are not only ineffective in preventing the spread of the virus but that they will actually make the situation worse. I am not sure what his reasoning behind this statement is but I suspect it’s something along the lines of “condoms will encourage people to have sex, therefore increasing the rate of infection” or something equally inane.
Clearly the Bishop of Rome is unaware of the numerous scientific studies (for example, see the recently reprinted meta analysis conducted by Weller and Davis-Beaty ) on the effectiveness of condoms in HIV prevention. In every case, such studies have concluded that condom use reduces the risk of infection by 90% to 98%. This is unambiguous evidence that condom use reduces the rate of infection. Furthermore, statistics clearly show that the availability of condoms has little impact on the rate of sexual activity. Condoms don’t increase the rate of sexual activity; they increase the rate safe sexual activity. The stupidity of the Popes comments is staggering but they are also dangerous. Just consider the number of christian missionaries in Africa that will be putting his words into practice.
But the case for condoms is even more of a no-brainer. Not only will they effectively prevent the suffering of millions but they will do so at a faction of the cost of treatment. Issuing condoms to nations like Africa is orders of magnitude lower in cost than that of providing the antiretroviral drugs used to treat the disease. At 2.5 cents a unit, the annual cost of supplying condoms to africa is estimated at $47.5 million . The cost of antiretrovirals for the 33 million presently infected with HIV is $92 per year for a total annual cost of approximately 3 billion [3,4]. This is a cost that will only increase as the rate of infection inevitably increases.
At best Pope Benedict XVI is ignorant of the studies that have been conducted to date on this issue. One would hope that a high profile community leader would educate himself in the facts of a situation before commenting. However it’s more likely the case that his holiness is willfully distorting the facts in order to propagate the church’s agenda. Although it’s not surprising to see a holy man misrepresenting scientific findings, not all members of the church are guilty of it. South African Bishop Kevin Dowling publicly supports condom use and you can find an interview with him on the matter here.
 Susan C. Weller and Karen Davis-Beaty “Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission (Review).” The Cochrane Collaboration (2009). Available at, http://www.thecochranelibrary.com