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Articles

Dr. Green is an Honorable Man

April 13th, 2009 • Contributed by Lon Newman
Posted in: Abstinence, Birth Control, Family Planning, Policy

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Patrick McIlheran, a conservative columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, startled me with a ‘quick hit’ that was printed in the Easter Sunday edition.  The columnist trumpets a letter to the Washington Post by Harvard School of Public Health HIV/Aids researcher, Edward Green, where, according to McIlheran, Green said: “The pope is correct.”  Katherine Kersten, blogging for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune also is amplifying Green’s assertion that current evidence on condom use in Africa supports the Pope’s position. My thoughts are: “Get ready, there’s a whole lot more where that came from and there will be a lot more for a long time.”

As Pope Benedict boarded a plane to Yaounde, he said: “”You can’t resolve it (Africa’s HIV/Aids Epidemic) with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Dr. Green’s research and his public presentations, by contrast, state that condoms are seldom used consistently and correctly in general populations and for many reasons, most of which are unknown, condom distribution programs in those areas of Africa have failed to show positive results on a population basis.  He explains that condoms are 80-90% effective at HIV transmission prevention when used consistently and correctly by individuals.

In fact, even in the Washington Post letter that is generating the public attention, Green says: “Don’t misunderstand me; I am not anti-condom. All people should have full access to condoms, and condoms should always be a backup strategy for those who will not or cannot remain in a mutually faithful relationship.”

Although Dr. Green’s research findings overlap with Pope Benedicts moral position that reducing multiple concurrent partners and promotion of fidelity and abstinence have been successful strategies for many people, we cannot ignore the distinction between the proven effectiveness of consistent and correct use of condoms by individuals at risk and our inability to show condom distribution program effectiveness in certain parts of Africa on a population research basis.

Dr. Green supports universal access to condoms and consistent and correct use by individuals at risk of sexually transmitted disease infection.  Pope Benedict XVI does not.

It is pointless to speculate on Dr. Green’s motivations for writing a letter to the Washington Post that minimizes the distinctions between the Vatican’s point-of-view and his own as a Harvard School of Public Health HIV/Aids researcher.  I am no Harvard epidemiologist, but I know that confusion resulting from Dr. Green’s letter will be used to oppose public health policies and programs that Dr. Green supports.  I know that opposition puts the lives and health of millions in Africa and across the world at risk.

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