HIV charities working in Africa are both angry and positive about news the Pope has declared that in some cases it is acceptable to use condoms. His comment is a big move away from the Catholic church’s previous hard-line stance against all forms of birth control.
In a new book, out this week, Pope Benedict XVI sanctions the use of condoms to prevent disease, such as HIV and Aids - but not to stop unwanted pregnancies.
He said: "There may be justified cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first bit of responsibility. But it's not the proper way to deal with the horror of the HIV infection."
“Condoms would make a big difference in Africa,” said Eyob Ghebre-Sellassie, from African Aids Action. “The Pope is in denial and I don’t think he understands the problem on the ground,” he told The Independent on Sunday.
Across Africa, 6,500 people die each day from Aids. Although there is no cure for Aids, using a condom can prevent HIV infection, and people living with HIV can take antiretroviral drugs to delay the onset of Aids.
Yesterday (Sunday) there was confusion over what specifically the Pope meant, not just because of the example he used. In the English, German and French versions, the phrase "a male prostitute" was used, but in the Italian translation, the words "una prostituta", meaning a female prostitute, was given.
Eritrean-born Mr Ghebre-Sellassie who works for the UK based charity working across east Africa said: “Aids is killing many heterosexual women in Africa. Aids is killing pregnant women and families too, and they should be encouraged to use condoms to save lives. We need the Pope to be specific about women, for whom condoms work very well."
Caroline Nenguke, from the Treatment Action Campaign, which works in South Africa, said: "This is at least a step towards condom use, which is an important preventative measure to stop the spread of HIV. It's not such a surprise – sooner or later he had to face up to reality, and the reality is that as a preventative measure they are very important. But this news is long overdue, and if the Pope, as a church leader and leader of opinion, had said this a long time ago it would have saved lives."
Excerpts from the book, Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times, based on a series of interviews with the Pope by a German journalist, were published on Saturday by L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. The pope's comments follow his controversial comment in 2009 that the rising tide of HIV in Africa could be made worse, not better, by handing out condoms.