Irene Mirembe has found what the whole world is looking for: A nearly 100% effective way of preventing AIDS. She’s a 24-year-old who lives in Kampala, Uganda.
She spoke with Sue Ellin Browder in this issue’s excellent front-page story about AIDS.
Stories like this one can create a false picture. In order to thoroughly cover the subject matter, we have to look very carefully at exactly how effective condom promotion efforts are at promoting condoms, and how effective condoms are at stopping AIDS.
We follow the Register’s journalistic philosophy and try to present the most effective argument against the Church, and then answer it.
But Irene’s life points to the deeper reason Catholics reject condoms, apart from issues of effectiveness.
“All my life I knew my dad would one day die of AIDS,” she told us. “He wasn’t faithful. I told him to stop going out with other women. He never listened to me. He got the virus in 1995 and died in May, 2003.”
Soon, Irene was an AIDS orphan.
When we think of the AIDS epidemic, we think of the numbers — big numbers — of those affected. Irene thinks of her father’s last days.
“In the end, he could no longer toilet himself,” she said. “You had to clean him up. You had to feed him. He was the only breadwinner. Every day we became poorer and poorer.”
The information Browder provides you about condoms in today’s story is key. But Irene’s lesson is more fundamental.
“If sex is not in a marriage, it has an impact on everyone in the family,” she told Browder. “Before my father died, we were tired of him. It has taken me a long time to forgive him.”
The facts that Browder collected bear out the principle that sex should stay in marriage. She talked to Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
She also spoke with Norman Hearst, a family physician and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.
These secular experts say that in many places condom promotion actually increases AIDS.
Green wrote Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries. He reported that, between 1989 and 2001, the average number of condoms per male ages 15 to 49 in African countries skyrocketed. So did the number of those infected with HIV. South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe had the world’s highest levels of condom availability per man. They also had the world’s highest HIV rates.
UNAIDS asked Hearst to do a scientific review to see if condom promotions had reversed HIV/AIDS epidemics. His review found the contrary was true. Countries with the most condoms per man tended to have the highest HIV rates. UNAIDS refused to publish Hearst’s findings.
“Condom promotion in Africa has been a disaster,” Hearst said.
The only thing that ever worked against Africa’s epidemic was Uganda’s “ABC” message, which stressed abstinence and fidelity. The message was to abstain and be faithful before resorting to condoms. It was drummed into the population through a number of media. Uganda’s HIV infection rates dropped by more than two-thirds.
As HIV dropped in the Karamoja district of Uganda, less than 1% of the population reported using condoms — the success against the disease came from sexual continence.
Again, though, Irene’s personal story points to the deeper issue. After her mother also died of AIDS, Irene had sex with several men — and that only reinforced what she had learned.
“I used condoms, but condoms didn’t protect my heart. Now I’m keeping myself for marriage. It’s definitely possible to live without sex,” she said. “Now there’s a freedom in my mind, a freedom in my heart.”
The truth is, AIDS is an unnecessary epidemic. Not only is it preventable but the lifestyle it takes to prevent it — abstinence outside of marriage — is also the only lifestyle that brings true happiness and real fulfillment.
We already know how to prevent AIDS. God provided the answer millennia ago in the Sixth Commandment. Condom promotions have only increased the numbers of dead.