Friday, December 3, 2010

My condom wars with Catholics on three continents

This blog was first published in the Huffington Post on Dec. 3, 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI’s comments last month that condom use can be justified in some cases to help curb the spread of AIDS were surprising to me only because they came from the very top of the Catholic Church. But in my 10 years of managing condom social marketing programs for HIV prevention and family planning, I have come across shocking discrimination as well as enlightenment and compassion from Catholics working with people at the grass roots.

Almost precisely 18 years ago, on World AIDS Day 1992, I launched “Maximum” condoms (“Strong for Maximum Protection, Sensitive for Maximum Pleasure”) in Zambia, a country that had double digit HIV prevalence but no reliable source of high quality, low-priced condoms. Zambia also had a newly-elected president, Frederick Chiluba, who was a born-again Christian and stridently anti-condom.

We had a big launch event at the Pamodzi Hotel with lots of speeches and exhortations on the importance of using condoms. Surprisingly to me, we also had a Catholic priest and nun in attendance. They had come separately and neither was wearing religious attire.