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In Cameroon, pope says condoms won't solve AIDS crisis

On his first visit to Africa as pontiff, Benedict says a responsible and moral attitude toward sex is the best way to prevent HIV infections.

March 18, 2009|Associated Press

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — Condoms are not the answer to Africa's fight against HIV, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday as he began a weeklong trip to the continent. It was the pope's first explicit statement on an issue that has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients.

Benedict arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, and was greeted by a crowd of flag-waving faithful and snapping cameras. The visit is his first pilgrimage as pontiff to Africa.

In his four years as pope, Benedict had never directly addressed condom use, although his stance is not new. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, often said that sexual abstinence was the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

Benedict also said the Roman Catholic Church was at the forefront of the battle against AIDS.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the pope said en route to Yaounde. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."

The pope said a responsible and moral attitude toward sex would help fight the disease.

About 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, also known as UNAIDS. In 2007, three-quarters of the world's AIDS deaths were there, as were two-thirds of all people living with HIV.

Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa said that if the pope was serious about preventing HIV infection, he would focus on promoting wide access to condoms and spreading information on how best to use them.

Hodes said the pope was right that condoms were not the sole solution, but she added that they were one of the very few proven measures to prevent HIV infection.

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