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 Wednesday 03 October 2007
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ZAMBIA: Bibles and condoms

Photo: Laura Lopez Gonzalez/PlusNews
But what about faith?
LUSAKA, 13 September 2007 (PlusNews) - It is mandatory that Zambia's hotels, lodges and guest houses stock at least two Bibles in each of their rooms, but it is rare to come across condoms or even condom-vending machines, despite many of these establishments being used by commercial sex workers and their clients.

About one in five sexually active people, or 1.6 million of Zambia's population of 10 million, are infected with HIV/AIDS; health activists are advocating that condoms, like Bibles, should be distributed free of charge in hotels and other venues offering commercial accommodation.

This strategy is likely to meet fierce opposition in a generally conservative country, where sex is not openly discussed and more than 80 percent of people claim to be practising Christians or, at least, combine elements of Christianity with African-based religious practices.

"We are seriously calling on the government to come up with a policy to compel all hotels and lodges to start distributing free condoms in all rooms, just as Bibles are freely distributed. It must be a matter of policy as a prevention measure, and all defaulting operators should not be given operating licenses. It's long overdue, and it must be done," Nkandu Luo, an HIV/AIDS consultant and former health minister, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"I have been interacting with so many sex workers and they all tell me the same story: they are not taken to residential homes every time they are picked from the streets, they are either taken to guest houses, hotels or lodges. So, by having condoms in these places, it will provide safer sex practices," Luo said.

Christian nation

Former president Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia a 'Christian Nation' in the early 1990s, and ever since then the promotion of condoms as an effective measure for reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS has met with government resistance.

Chiluba's vice-president, Godfrey Miyanda, once banned all condom advertisements on television, and while many religious leaders have accepted condoms as a tool for the prevention of the disease's spread, condoms are still commonly equated with "selling" and "advertising" illegal sex.

"It's not only immoral but also ungodly to suggest that public places - worst of all, hotels - should be littered with condoms. That's more or less like saying, 'here is a weapon for protecting your physical life, so use it to sin against God and destroy your spiritual life'," Peter Chisanga, a pastor at Calvary Highway, an evangelical church in the capital, Lusaka, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We need to teach people that only God can save a person's life, and even protect someone from contracting HIV, not a condom. The only condition He [God] requires of us is to be holy so, for us, abstinence by the grace of God is the message."

It is not uncommon to find religious pamphlets, often printed by Christian organisations based in the United States, at hotels. At one Lusaka guesthouse, an IRIN correspondent recently found a flyer in his bedside table, warning that "AIDS is the judgement of God for sex perversion", and "God did not allow the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to get by for their sins of homosexuality, and neither will He let America or any other nation get by."
''We are seriously calling on government to compel all hotels and lodges to start distributing free condoms in all rooms, just as Bibles are freely distributed''

In spite of widespread religious opposition to condom promotion, President Levy Mwanawasa's government has acknowledged that a culture of condom usage has not taken root, and this needed to change.

Zambia's deputy health minister, Lwipa Puma, told local media recently that "condom usage is still very poor in Zambia, especially the female condom ... This surely calls for more advocacy and promotion for its use."

Condom shortages

Clementine Mumba, a spokesperson for the Treatment and Advocacy Literacy Campaign, an HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy group, said perceiving the promotion of condoms as immoral was counterproductive to the country's fight against HIV/AIDS.

"Our people are dying, and they will continue dying unless we change our attitudes towards issues of sex. Let's not pretend; we all read the Bible as Christians, but it's also true that people visit hotels for different reasons - some of them specifically go there for sex," she told IRIN.

"At least if they [hotel proprietors] can't put condoms in the rooms, there should be a way of having them displayed in bathrooms and lavatories, because we certainly need them for our own survival," said Mumba, who has being living with HIV/AIDS for the past five years.

Sylvia Eneke, of the Hotel and Catering Association of Zambia, an umbrella body for hotels and other members of the hospitality industry, said measures to ensure that more people had access to condoms in their establishments were being hampered by the unavailability of free condoms.

"We do not have a policy, per se, to distribute condoms in our facilities, but it's something that we have also realised we need to do, and some of our members have actually started putting them [condoms] in all public bars at a small fee. The problem is that there are very few organisations willing to supply free condoms, and many clients have their own preferences for condom types," Eneke told IRIN.


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Prevention - PlusNews


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.