Pope Benedict's controversial statements that condoms aren't helping in Africa may be unpopular, but evidence shows that he might be right, a public heath researcher argues in the Washington Post. It's a divisive topic in part because the condom has become such a potent symbol of sexual freedom and female emancipation, acknowledges Edward C. Green. Yet research has revealed that condoms do not work as a primary HIV-intervention measure in Africa, Green notes.
A initial key study found that one reason for condoms' diminished effectiveness in Africa is "risk compensation," meaning people engage in riskier sex when they believe they're protected, at least some of the time. Condoms have been successful in nations where most HIV is transmitted by sex workers. But HIV in Africa tends to spread within relationships in the general population. The best idea in such a situation would be a public strategy to advocate monogamy or faithful polygamy, Green argues.