Corporate Activists Promoting Condoms as Panacea to HIV/AIDS

By Finnigan Wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

Posted May 29, 2002

ZAMBIA's founding father and first President Dr Kenneth David Kaunda recently sparked off a storm of criticism from church leaders in his country when he urged promiscuous Zambians to use condoms in order to stay clean from HIV/AIDS infection.

Zambia is one of the countries in the world which is said to be badly affected by the HIV/AIDS scourge being part of sub-Sahara Africa where World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 28 million people are infected by the virus while over two million lost their lives by last year.

"We are still impure. The church has not succeeded in making us pure yet. I would advise our church leaders to reconsider the stand on the use of condoms," Dr Kaunda was quoted by the local media as having said.

As differing figures on HIV/AIDS infections in sub-Sahara Africa keep on coming up by various international health and activists groups lobbying for urgent action to curb the scourge, a new group of corporate activists has joined the army of lobbyists.

This group of corporate activists, which is sponsored by Western companies, has invaded sub-Sahara Africa, traced influential leaders like Dr Kaunda and engaged them in promotion of condoms as effective mediums for the promiscuous to use in their sex life.

Zambia which is said to have every one adult among ten infected by the virus in urban centres, has recently received an over $42m from World Bank to help it fight the spread of the acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) virus and minimise deaths. Much of this money, officials said, will be spent in prevention and not treatment, high on the spending list is an allocation for condom purchasing.

In Tanzania, the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS problem in urban centres is just as bad with estimates putting the infection rate at one among every nine adults. Among those leading the HIV/AIDS awareness campaign and who recently visited a number of countries in sub-Sahara Africa was Pernessa Seele, Balm In Gilead's founder and chief executive officer.

Herself black American, Seele told journalists in Tanzania late last month (April) that if not careful, HIV/AIDS may wipe out blacks from the face of the earth and urged church leaders to warn church goers of the deadly virus in their sermons.

"We in Balm In Gilead believe that the church is the most powerful institution in mobilising people at any campaign... the church can reach far where others cannot manage," Seele told the media in the sub-region while pledging to include Moslem sheikhs in the campaign soon.

The Catholic Church remains a major voice opposed to any HIV/AIDS preventive measures which simply promote casual sex among its members, especially lies that condoms can keep the promiscuous safe from contracting the virus.

Today, sub-Sahara Africa has an extra-ordinary number of non-governmental organisations, professional associations and visiting international activist organisations engaged in counselling, lobbying for behaviour change but perhaps the worst, is promoting condom use among primary school adolescents.

United Nations Joint Commission on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that of the 40 million people infected by the virus in the world by end last year, one third is a group of mostly girls aged 15 to 24 years.

The Commission has since formed partnerships with governments, private companies and activists aimed at reducing the prevalency rate among youths in the above age group by 25% by 2005 in sub-Sahara Africa, the hardest hit region, and 2010 elsewhere in the world.

It is good that much emphasis is being put on prevention, though, as church leaders have argued, the rhetoric of urging youngmen and women to engage in casual 'safe' sex by using condoms as is being done now, is a dangerous development.

Even health experts are starting to express fears that the way condoms are being promoted as panacea to HIV/AIDS prevention, is dangerous and may indeed lead to the extinction of the current generation of youngmen and women in sub-Sahara Africa.

Today, television prime time, newspaper front pages, popular radio programmes and road side billboards are awash with adverts promoting the use of condoms as the most effective scientifically proven medium to contain spreading of the virus.

Sports stars, top radio and television presenters, actors, musicians and other crowd pulling personalities are being paid by companies to appear in adverts promoting condoms, the tobacco adverts style which led to mass introduction of cigarette smoking among Western youths last decade.

"Over advertisement of condoms is harmful to youths, forcing some to try the presumed safety device," a leading Tanzanian HIV/AIDS researcher from Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Muhimbili University of Health Sciences, Professor Eligius Lyamuya said. He said such a new culture of over-advertising condoms is only common in Africa and not in the developed parts of the world such as Europe.

Africa is fast becoming a major importer of condoms as leading political figures get hooked by corporate activists who are hiding behind the shadow of showing concern for the loss of lives among thousands of youngmen and women through HIV/AIDS. These condom salesmen are in reality endangering the lives of the very people they are claiming to defend by cheating them that with condoms, promiscuity can be practiced safely.

In Uganda, a much touted, "No glove, no love," campaign which was imported into the country by an American activist group, Africa Unite Against AIDS Globally, was started at the end of April with full might, targetting adolescents in the capital, Kampala's schools.

Uganda one of the countries which is commended for having reduced HIV/AIDS prevalency rate from 30% to about 6% new infections per annum between 1993 and 2001, is said to be one of the world's largest importers of condoms. Behavioural change among men is said to be behind the rapid fall in new cases while South African medical expert who had at one time worked with exiled Ugandans in London, claims that most of those who were identified as infected back home, tested negative at his clinic.

In Kenya, the government announced early this month the awarding of a tender backed by World Bank loan to a number of suppliers who will throw into the country some 300 million condoms in the next five years.

The country's chief government chemist Kipkerich Kosgey was quoted by the local media as saying that since the discovery of the first HIV/AIDS case in the east African country in 1984, over 1.1 million Kenyans have died of the disease while over 2.2 are said to be infected out of a population of 27 million inhabitants.

The condoms promotion story is even worse in Tanzania where United Nations Population Action Fund (UNFPA) was forced to withdraw from circulation a consignment of 10 million condoms, which were found to be defective last month.

UNFPA has been forced to return the consignment to a Chinese supplier after press reports revealed that the much touted "safe sex" tubes had failed a local standard test and that there were efforts to force the defective products into the local market.

Deputy Health Minister Dr Hussein Mwinyi later told the media that the country was facing shortage of condoms because there were only a million of them left in stock which was enough to cover one month only.

If Tanzania's sex-mongers use a million condoms per month with experts claiming that those using such gadgets are ninety percent safe from infection, ten percent of those making up the likely infected perverts leaves the country with roughly 100,000 new infections per month! Like cigarette adverts, condoms need to have a warning statement scribled on each promotional surface and it should read: doctor's warning; condoms are not 100% safe in preventing you from HIV/AIDS infection

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