Sunday, June 10, 2007

Condoms for everyone!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So President Bush II met with Pope Benedict XVI yesterday on his whirlwind European tour, protesters marching peacefully through the Roman streets, some clashing with police The Pope mentioned "the worrisome situation in Iraq," which may be one of the grossest understatements in the history of Roman Catholicism, and, although the details of the meeting are sketchy -- who knows what exactly was said privately? -- the President "made a point about U.S. efforts to fight disease and poverty in Africa," "recall[ing] that he had asked Congress to double the commitment for fighting AIDS in Africa, from $15 billion to $30 billion".

Sounds good, no? No.

As Think Progress reported back in January, following Bush's State of the Union address, there has been a good deal of criticism of Bush's hyped-up aid-to-Africa-to-help-fight-AIDS policy, much of it focusing on the fact that much of the aid goes to promote, as one might expect from Bush, abstinence, not prevention or treatment. Similarly, back in March, The New York Times reported that Bush's "plan to fight AIDS globally is seriously hampered by restrictions imposed by Congress and the administration" -- this from a prestigious panel of medical experts, the Institute of Medicine. One of the debilitating restrictions that, needless to say, affects Africa deeply: "The requirement that 33 percent of all money for prevention be spent teaching chastity and fidelity, even in countries where most cases are spread by drug injection."

This is not to say that the plan is all bad, and the Times notes that "the panel endorsed financing it beyond its 2009 expiration date". But it does put Bush's "point about U.S. efforts to fight disease and poverty in Africa" in perspective. Those efforts are not quite what he often makes them out to be.

Still, it's not as if the Pope would have objected to the President's convictions and restrictions with respect to how the U.S. contributes to the fight against AIDS in Africa. After all, they seem to think alike on homosexuality, birth control, and abortion, among other key issues pertaining to health, sex, and education. Indeed, what is amusing -- but not all that amusing when you think about the immense power these two men wield -- is the thought of Bush and Benedict talking about AIDS in Africa at all. Benedict is more extreme than Bush on these issues, of course, but these are two men who have contributed to Africa's struggle with AIDS precisely because of their views on birth control -- that is, because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions.

What Africa needs is effective leadership that provides workable programs, not regressive thinking rooted in theocratic moral absolutism. That is, what it needs is condoms, lots of them, not lectures on abstinence. And certainly not from these two.

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  • Michael, my understanding is that encouraging the use of condoms is a bit of a hard sell throughout much of Africa. Men do not like to use them. So education would be important, definitely.

    By Blogger M. Damian McNicholl, at 11:46 AM  

  • Very good point, Damian, and I suppose I was also using "condoms" metaphorically. Above all, what is needed is education. I mean, it's not enough to throw condoms at people. They have to know not just how to use birth control but why to use it. Here, again, the abstinence-first (or -only) views of Bush and Benedict are entirely counter-productive.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:38 PM  

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