Harvard prof defends Benedict XVI on condoms and AIDS

Since the Holy See isn’t making this known, CNA had this:

Harvard Researcher agrees with Pope on condoms in Africa  [Not a CUA prof, a HARVARD prof.]

Cambridge, Mass., Mar 21, 2009 / 10:11 am (CNA).- Pope Benedict’s recent brief remark against condoms has caused an uproar in the press, but several prominent scientists dedicated to preventing AIDS are defending the Pope, saying he was correct in his analysis. In an interview with CNA, Dr. Edward Green explained that although condoms should work, in theory, they may be “exacerbating the problem” in Africa.

Benedict XVI’s Tuesday comments on condoms were made as part of his explanation of the Church’s two prong approach to fighting AIDS. At one point in his response the Pontiff stressed that AIDS cannot be overcome by advertising slogans and distributing condoms and argued that they “worsen the problem.” The media responded with an avalanche of over 4,000 articles on the subject, calling Benedict a “threat to public health,” and saying that the Catholic Church should “enter the 21st century.”

Senior Harvard Research Scientist for AIDS Prevention, Dr. Edward Green, who is the author of five books, including “Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries” discussed his support for Pope Benedict XVI’s comments with CNA.

According to Dr. Green, science is finding that the media is actually on the wrong side of the issue.  In fact, Green says that not only do condoms not work, but that they may be “exacerbating the problem” in Africa.

“Theoretically, condoms ought to work,” he explained to CNA, “and theoretically, some condom use ought to be better than no condom use, but that’s theoretically.”

Condom proponents often cite the lack of condom education as the main culprit for higher AIDS rates in Africa but Green disagrees.

After spending 25 years promoting condoms for family planning purposes in Africa, he insists that he’s quite familiar with condom promotion. Yet, he claims that “anyone who worked in family planning knew that if you needed to prevent a pregnancy, say the woman will die, you don’t recommend a condom.”

Green recalls that when the AIDS epidemic hit Africa, the “Industry” began using AIDS as a “dual purpose” marketing strategy to get more funding for condom distribution. This, he claims, effectively took “something that was a 2nd or 3rd grade device for avoiding unwanted pregnancies” and turned it into the “best weapon we [had] against AIDS.”

The accepted wisdom in the scientific community, explained Green, is that condoms lower the HIV infection rate, but after numerous studies, researchers have found the opposite to be true. “We just cannot find an association between more condom use and lower HIV reduction rates” in Africa.

Dr. Green found that part of the elusive reason is a phenomenon known as risk compensation or behavioral disinhibition.

“[Risk compensation] is the idea that if somebody is using a certain technology to reduce risk, a phenomenon actually occurs where people are willing to take on greater risk.” The idea can be related to someone that puts on sun block and is willing to stay out in the sun longer because they have added protection. In this case, however, the greater risk is sexual. Because people are willing take on more risk, they may “disproportionally erase” the benefits of condom use, Green said.

Another factor that contributes to ineffective condom use in Africa, is the phenomenon where condoms may be effective on an “individual level,” but not on a “population level.” Green’s research found that “condoms have been effective” in HIV concentrated areas where high risk activities are already being conducted, such as brothels in countries like Thailand.

Claiming to be a liberal himself, Green asserts that promoting Western “liberal ideology” where, “most Africans are conservative when it comes to sexual behavior,” is quite offensive to them. Citing his new book, “Indigenous Theories and Contagious Disease,” Green described Africans as “very religious by global standards” who are offended by “trucks going around where people are dancing to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, tossing out condoms to teenagers and the children of the village.”

Green also noted that there is an ideology called “harm reduction” that is being pushed by many organizations trying to prevent AIDS.  The ideology believes that “you can’t change the underlying behavior, that you can’t get people to be faithful, especially Africans,” the HIV specialist explained.

One country, Uganda, recognized these issues and said, “Listen, if you have multiple sex partners, you are going to get AIDS.” What worked in Uganda, a country that has seen a decline by as much as 2/3 in AIDS infections, was that officials realized that even aside from religious and cultural reasons, “no one likes condoms.” Instead of waiting for “American and European advisors to arrive,” Ugandan officials reacted and developed a program that fit their culture; their main message being “stick to one partner or love faithfully.”

However, in 2004, Uganda’s AIDS infection rates began to increase once again, due to an influx of condoms and Western “advice”, Green recalled.  Western donors also came to Uganda and said behavioral change doesn’t work and that, “most infections nowadays are among married people.” Green said these claims are “misleading,” pointing out that “married people always have lower HIV infection rates than single or divorced people of the same age group.”

Green’s new book, “AIDS and Ideology,” to be completed in the next few months, will describe the industry in Africa that is “drawing billions of dollars a year promoting condoms, testing, drugs, and treatment of AIDS” and is clearly resistant to the idea that behavioral change is the solution.

Yet the two countries that have the highest infection rate of AIDS in the world, Botswana and Swaziland, have recently launched campaigns to promote fidelity and monogamy, the Harvard researcher said. These countries “have learned the hard way” about the failure of condoms in preventing AIDS, he said, noting that “Botswana has probably had more condom promotion” than any other county on a per capita basis. Green said he had no problem “having condoms as a backup to fidelity-based programs.”

According to Green, the Catholic Church should continue to “do what it is already doing,” avoid “arguing about the diameter of viruses” and cite scientific evidence in connection with scripture and moral theology.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Western elitist liberalism will ignore this empirical evidence and continue to attack the Church as the true culprit in this horrible epidemic. The persecution is in full swing…and Africans will continue to die.

  2. Tom says:

    a stopped clock

  3. stgemma0411 says:

    Saw this a few days ago and it totally confirmed what I have been saying to my friends and have been posting with comments on here, from time to time, which is that the best skills we can hope to develop in our children and those who are interested in learning, is to be able to sit down to a news article and to be able to pick out what is propaganda (false news/advertising), and what is true. I remember sitting down with a friend of mine a few months ago and going over a response to women’s rights and abortion and pointing out to her, in a 3 page email, over 30 logical mistakes, as well as outright lying within the email to try and support an argument. But this is what we have to work against in today’s society. Society is lying to us about what is and what is the truth. Things like AIDS, global warming, economics, etc., are just fabrications and fear-mongering to make it so that the news has something to print/talk about. They don’t care about reporting news, they care about making money and selling advertising revenue.

    So, again, the greatest gift you can give your children and the greatest skill you can help foster in yourself as well as your friends, is the gift to be able to weed out truth and falsity on a very basic level. It goes a LONG way to being able to determine what it is that we as a society are being force-fed every day.

  4. Matt says:

    He cites some scientific studies to support his argument. Anybody have links to these studies? Could be useful to cite them in future arguments.

  5. alipius says:

    St. Gemma: “Amen” to that!

  6. HQD says:

    Professor Green has been quoted a number of times in articles I’ve read from First Things. He is readily accessible by email even! I had the pleasure of him emailing me back concering the very question of finding some articles of relevance to his studies. He points to the following website:

    http://www.harvardaidsprp.org/ <– this is his research website
    http://www.ccih.org <— this has a free pdf of some of the studies he’s done

    And another book (kind of pricey and I haven’t gotten around to ordering it):

    Green, E.C., Rethinking AIDS Prevention. Westport, Ct.: Praeger (2003).

  7. Sarsfield says:

    The question is, when will any of BXVI’s brother bishops come out from under the covers and, using these secular,scientific studies, spring to the defense of their beleaguered leader. Is it just me, or is the Pope being hung out to dry by those who should be foremost in defending him on this and other recent so-called “gaffes”? It takes a prof from Harvard of all places to publicly state that the Pope is right on this!

  8. DocJim says:

    Dr. Edward Green has his Ph.D. from CUA. His comments will soon be wedded to his Curriculum Vitae and he will be discounted by the press. So don’t get your hopes up for the MSM. They will either fail to report (probably what IS NOW OCCURRING) or they will argue against him with ad hominem attacks.

    I don’t disagree with what he has said, as I believe this fairly reports findings from HIV studies in Africa.

    I’m not an AIDS specialist or epidemiologist (I’m a practicing internist in Wash DC metro area), but these studies have been reported. They show only 50-60% efficacy of condoms in HIV transmission. If you add to that failure rate, the expectation of “prevention” in the minds of the person having illicit sexual encounters, you “encourage” multiple partner sexual activities.

  9. R&R says:

    Add to that the fact that few sexual relationships remain in the prophylactic stage. Whether or not someone knows they are at risk, they are not going to continue forever to use a condom. Men don’t like them. A relationship may get started under the guise that it’s “safe sex,” but it won’t stay like that for more than a few weeks. Eventually the prophylactic gets forgotten, they run out, or just plain refuse to bother anymore. So condoms exacterbate the problem immensely with the mirage of “safe sex” and getting the fun started. Even if the failure rate were 0%, they would exacerbate the problem.

    What is the likelihood that someone that starts a sexual relationship with a prophylactic is going to say, well we ran out or I am tired of using it, so let’s just stop doing it? Somewhere between slim and none.

  10. Corleone says:

    Today our priest (truly a man of God!) gave a very long sermon which included his take on the Pope’s trip to Africa. To paraphrase, he said, “in a continent where roughly 2.7 million children die a year from malaria, 5 million children die from malnutrition, over 10 million more a year die from airborn, water and commonly treated diseases such as measels, and in a good year another million die from various civil wars, the media would have us all believe that by raining condoms down condoms from the sky we will cure all of Africa’s problems.”

    There were some very strong reactions ranging from gasps to nervous giggles, to full on laughter (mine). Thank God I now belong to a parish which is truly supportive and congniscent of the work our Holy Father is doing in the world.

  11. It is amazing how the statistics in HIV/AIDS studies bear out what the Holy Father has said. I’ve just written about this in my own blog, and the statistics regarding increased condom usage and increased HIV prevalence is staggering. What’s more, it seems to me that there is a latent racism in much of our approach to AIDS. They’re just primitive Africans, after all, and so we can’t expect them to change their behavior. Maybe no one will say it so explicitly, but that’s the underlying attitude of many. But statistics against show a very different thing, that people do in fact change their sexual behavior, and that when this change occurs, this, and not increased condom usage, is what leads to a reduction in HIV prevalence. Who would have thought, a man as educated and intelligent as Joseph Ratzinger might actually know what he’s talking about. Le sigh.

  12. “[Risk compensation] is the idea that if somebody is using a certain technology to reduce risk, a phenomenon actually occurs where people are willing to take on greater risk.”

    Why don’t they ever relate this to something we all know. It’s not at all a weird phenomena. “I can eat extra tonight, I worked out hard this morning.” “I can eat extra tonight, I didn’t eat much yesterday.” It’s the same psychological phenomena as ruins so many diets here in the states.

  13. Mike says:

    The similarities between what’s going on with BXVI and “Bush derangement syndrome” are really striking. The hatred and hysteria, the nonsense that “everyone knows” but isn’t true, the dopes who accept absurd premises or allow themselves to be bullied into accepting the inverted fantasy world generated by the media echo chamber, etc., etc…

    Seems to be working quite effectively. See Rorate Caeli…

  14. Nancy Reyes says:

    I wrote the same thing elsewhere.

    and not mentioned: not only do condoms deteriorate in a hot climate, but a lot of those distributed are defective “counterfeit” condoms from China that break.

  15. lkfl says:

    Interesting stuff. I remember learning from a human rights course at the University of Chicago that of the highly effective ABC program used in Uganda to combat HIV/AIDS (abstinence, be faithful, and contraceptives), the most effective was actually the B. If only more people would take the time to use that intellect God endowed us with before they criticize with such scathing words, but maybe that’s wishful thinking in this age of 24-hour news?

    I try to stay informed with global events daily, but perhaps it’s better to retreat from the world even more into prayer for the rest of Lent. The cycle of stories seems to go like this: a dismal look at the economy, a report on something Benedict said/did but not taking the time to examine the nuance of his words or actual actions, then a human interest story about the Obamas.

  16. Sharon says:


    National Catholic Reporter John Allen wrote Benedict in Cameroon – a tale of two trips in which he notes …I don’t think I’ve ever covered a papal trip where the gap between internal and external perceptions has been as vast as over these three days.

    It’s almost as if the pope has made two separate visits to Cameroon: the one reported internationally and the one Africans actually experienced.

    Bottom line: Seen from abroad, the trip has been about condoms; on the ground, it’s felt like a celebration of African Catholicism.


    Ugandan AIDS activist thanks pope for opposition to condoms.
    Martin Ssempa questioned the failure of most media outlets to investigate the motives of the international AIDS organisations, saying, “Many of these writers and naysayers, are actually shills in the service of big pharma.
    “Many are entangled in lucrative deals to distribute condoms and the more condoms they push out the more money they get. How come no one has ever made a comment on how much money is being made by big pharma out of the whole condom, testing and drug business?

    In 2004 August more than 40 million condoms of the Engabu brand were found to be defective and were recalled to be destroyed. This was after a huge public outcry on the condom failures which may have exposed many people to HIV/AIDS in the false hope of security from these latex from China.”


    Moscow Patriarchate supports Pope’s position re condoms and AIDS


    Reassessing HIV Prevention a retrospective study conducted by Malcolm Potts, Daniel T. Halperin, et. al., and published in the May 9, 2008 issue of Science.

    To see my précis go to http://members7.boardhost.com/CathPews/msg/1237694727.html

  17. Memphis Aggie says:

    The risk compensation or behavioral dis-inhibition is just the scientific confirmation of what is already known by holy men like our Pope. The difference is that scientists learn through observation of men while the Pope learns of human nature directly from the manufacturer.

    This same phenomena may explain why more condoms leads to greater promiscuity and, in the absence of constraining conscience, more abortions.

  18. TerryC says:

    Isn’t it amazing? Behaving in a moral way garners benefits, not just in Heaven but on Earth. It is why Christ will win eventually. Those who insist on following the Lord of the World, that prince of liars, instead of the Lord of the Universe create their own hell on Earth.
    Eventually most thinking people will see it, even those who do not have strong faith. Then they will take another look and realize people of faith have held the moral high ground all along.

Comments are closed.