Condom campaign angers Catholic cleric

GAMBIA: Condom campaign angers Catholic cleric

©  Lovelife

Catholic cleric opposes the use of condoms by the youths

BANJUL, 15 Sep 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - The Roman Catholic Church has voiced its opposition to the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Gambia, challenging a government-backed prevention campaign based on the distribution of cheap contraceptives to the country's youth.

Father Edward Gomez, a well-known Catholic priest who regularly presents discussion programmes on local television, made the church's position clear at a workshop on Advocacy and Effective Behavior Change Techniques, sponsored by a Catholic youth organisation called Gambia AIDS Service (GAS), in Banjul last week.

“The church does not teach that condoms should be used for the prevention of HIV/AIDS or for contraceptive purposes,” Father Gomez said.

He advised the Catholic youths to seek more knowledge about their faith and its teaching on the issue of HIV/AIDS in order to avoid being "misled by public opinion that condoms should be made easily accessible for sex".

The church's reaction against condoms was triggered by an increasingly aggressive media campaign launched by the state-sponsored Gambia Social Marketing Management Programme. This seeks to put condoms and contraceptive pills within easy reach of all sexually active Gambians.

The campaigners have packaged the condoms and pills in chocolate-style packs which are sold cheaply under the brand names of “cool” and “kairo”.

About 85 percent of the Gambia's 1.3 million population is Muslim, but the christian churches still exert a strong social influence in the small West African country, especially among its educated elite.

The Gambia has a relatively low HIV infection rate, officially estimated at 1.6 percent of the population aged between 15 and 49.

However, many humanitarian workers fear that the real HIV prevalence rate is much higher because of an increase in the sexual abuse of local children.

Gambia has long been linked with sex tourism from Western Europe, but the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a study published in May that the main abusers of local children were Gambian males.

It warned that for most of the girls involved, this was just the beginning of a downward spiral that often resulted in child pregnancy, clandestine abortion, violent abuse, HIV infection and exposure to AIDS.

Between 1986, when the first case of AIDS was reported in Gambia, until 2001, the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) reported that over 1,500 people died from AIDS in the country. A further 8,500 people are estimated to be living with the HI virus that eventually causes AIDS.

Father Gomez recognised the reality of the pandemic in Gambia.

“AIDS is real and it exists in our country,” he told the Catholic youths. “Those who dismiss the virus and disease as American ploys to discourage sex are the actual joke.”

But the priest, who administers the Roman Catholic cathedral in Banjul, pledged that his church would fulfill its responsibility to by providing its members with “moral guidance” to protect them from HIV infection.


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