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JOHANNESBURG, 30 July 2001 (PlusNews) - CONTENTS: SOUTH AFRICA: Catholic bishops condemn use of condoms to fight AIDS SOUTH AFRICA: New national AIDS helpline launched ZIMBABWE: Minister blames poverty for high AIDS rate SOUTH AFRICA: Catholic bishops condemn use of condoms to fight AIDS Catholic bishops from Southern Africa on Monday condemned the use of condoms to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, saying their use was immoral and dangerous. In a statement issued after the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference (SACBC) held in Pretoria, the bishops said they considered the promotion of condoms “an immoral and misguided weapon in our battle against HIV/AIDS”. Vice-president of the SACBC, Bishop Michael Coleman, told SABC TV news on Sunday that “condoms don’t make a difference ... This country is saturated with condoms yet we have the highest rates of Aid [transmission] in the world. Promoting condoms increases the incidence of AIDS”. The seven-day conference was aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. A large part of the conference’s discussions concentrated on the AIDS pandemic and a proposal that the church reconsider its ban on condoms to combat the spread of disease. The proposal came from a draft document prepared by Bishop Kevin Dowling, who earlier this month, urged that condoms be used to control the spread of AIDS. Dowling said that AIDS was killing many people and he felt that he could not “duck the issue”. Dowling told IRIN recently that he had become aware of the reality of HIV/AIDS through his work and support of AIDS programmes in Rustenburg, about 100 km northwest of Johannesburg. He said his call for the use of condoms was a personal stance and he knew that the draft would be a contentious issue at the conference although he hoped that it would be accepted by the bishops. Before the conference, the Catholic newspaper, ‘Southern Cross’, came out in support of Dowling and encouraged the church to “reconcile its total ban on prophylactics with the philosophy of the sanctity of life”. Dowling said that people thought the Catholic Church’s response to HIV/AIDS was a simple ban on condoms and insistence on abstinence. They were unaware that the church ran the largest network of AIDS programmes after the government. IRIN obtained a report on the AIDS programmes administered by the SACBC’s AIDS office and the office runs five types of programmes; the mother to child transmission prevention project, an education and prevention campaign, AIDS orphan care, home care and counselling programmes as well as hospice programmes. SOUTH AFRICA: New AIDS helpline launched Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang launched the country’s modernised AIDS helpline on Monday. The lifeline offers toll-free assistance 24 hours a day by specially trained counsellors using state of the art telecommunications equipment. The helpline received support and technical assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through John Hopkins University, a respected authority in public health teaching and patient care. Initiated by the department of health ten years ago, the helpline initially operated manually. Calls have risen from 5,000 per month in 1998 to 20,000 per month. According to national AIDS helpline manager, Pamilla Mudhray, the helpline can now handle up to 200,000 calls per month. ZIMBABWE: Minister blames poverty for high AIDS rate The minister of health and child welfare said on Thursday that poverty was to blame for the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS cases in the country. Speaking on a tour of Hwange district hospitals and clinics, Dr Timothy Stamps said, “poverty is a dominant force in the spread of HIV/AIDS”, the ‘Daily News’ reported. “The Hwange district, like any other in the country, has high incidence of HIV/AIDS and until we address the problem of poverty, our people will continue to die,” the minister was quoted as saying. The provincial medical director for Matabeleland North, Dr Ruth Labode, said due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Hwange district and other parts of the province had a mortality rate of 25 percent. She said the figure was poised to rise before the end of the year.

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