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Groups Says Condom Limits Sap AIDS Fight

December 1, 2004

NEW YORK — Criticism of condoms and restrictions on access to them are undercutting the fight against HIV/AIDS in countries ranging from Nigeria to Peru to the United States, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.

Marking World AIDS Day, the New York-based human rights organization described condoms as the single most effective weapon against sexually transmitted HIV, but said they are subjected to government-backed constraints in numerous countries.

In some places, Human Rights Watch said, police confiscate condoms from AIDS outreach workers and use them as evidence of illegal prostitution or sodomy.

“Governments should be promoting condom use, not treating condoms like contraband,” said Jonathan Cohen, a Human Rights Watch researcher. “The clear result of restricting access to condoms will be more lives lost to AIDS.”

The U.S. government, although the leading donor to HIV/AIDS-fighting initiatives, was criticized for its support of “abstinence until marriage” HIV-prevention programs that often depict condoms as unreliable and withhold any practical information about their use.

“The Bush Administration is spending millions of dollars on abstinence-only programs that mislead people at risk of HIV/AIDS about the effectiveness of condoms,” said Rebecca Schleifer, another Human Rights Watch researcher. “Exporting these programs to countries facing even more serious epidemics will only make the situation worse.”…

Tony Jewell, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the U.S. government does fund condom distribution through some of its HIV/AIDS programs, but he defended the philosophy behind other programs which espouse the abstinence-only approach.

“It’s a scientific fact that you will not get a sexually transmitted disease if you do not have sex,” he said.

Human Rights Watch also criticized religious leaders – including officials at the Vatican – who have publicly linked condoms with promiscuity.

Worldwide, Human Rights Watch said, less than half the people at risk of sexual transmission of HIV had access to condoms, and even fewer had access to basic HIV/AIDS education.

Among the countries examined in the report:

– India. Human Rights Watch said some police officers treat supplying condoms to men who have sex with other men as an act abetting sodomy, which is outlawed in India. It said police also have used condom possession as justification for harassing prostitutes.

– Nigeria. The report said advertisements for condoms have been banned in some cases on grounds that they encourage adultery and premarital sex.

– Peru. Human Rights Watch said the government has decreased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and increased barriers to condom access.

In other AIDS Day developments:

– The sex industry’s role in spreading AIDS was discussed at a conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, attended by about 400 aid workers seeking strategies for fighting the epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region. “Sex work cannot be abolished. We must recognize these sex workers are human beings, too,” said Khartini Slamah, a delegate from a Malaysian relief group.

– In China, President Hu Jintao shook hands with AIDS patients in a Beijing hospital, encouraging them to stick with their medical treatment. It was the second year in a row that top Chinese leaders shook hands and had face-to-face exchanges with patients on AIDS Day.




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