Monday, June 22, 2009

The Madness of Pope Benedict XVI


The Madness of Pope Benedict XVI

March 18th, 2009
Posted in Politics, Public Health, Religion, Society

See The John Paul II Millstone

See Fire David Letterman

Africa and in particular sub-Saharan Africa is the continent the most affected by the HIV epidemic. During the last 25 years more than 20 millions people have died of AIDS in Africa. There, the epidemic particularly affects women, HIV transmission is mostly through heterosexual sex, and concurrent relationships have been identified as a force driving the spread of the virus in the population. In Africa, HIV is mostly about sex. Prevention interventions have been difficult, hindered by limited political commitment, if not political denial of the cause of AIDS, religious interference and lack of resources (amongst many other factors).

Today His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI made his first papal visit in Africa and dropped a bomb on an already decimated population.

Speaking in Cameroon, the not-so-holy head of the Catholic Church argued that HIV is “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.”

Against all common sense, against all scientific evidences, against a background of one and a half millions death a year, 12 millions of African children orphaned by HIV, 23 millions infected people, Benedict XVI believes that the answer to HIV is to be found in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”

The BBC reports that “While in Africa, the pontiff is expected to talk to young people about the Aids epidemic and explain to them why the Catholic Church recommends sexual abstinence as the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Let it be clear, to date there is no scientific evidence to support that condoms have increased the problem of HIV, but there is plenty of evidences supporting that abstinence, or “spiritual and human awakening” as Benedict now calls it, has failed preventing HIV transmission.

Let it also be clear that condom are not the all-in-one solution, as demonstrated -only briefly, in Uganda before Christian pastors start burning condoms in front of Makerere University, but they are not part of the problem as an old age ignorant prelate would like a vulnerable and sometimes desperate people to believe (see H. Epstein God and the Fight Against AIDS)

The pontiff wants young, energetic, hormonally-driven and sexually attractive and curious young people to sacrifice their natural attraction to the opposite sex in favour of spiritual and human awakening. Welcome to Planet Vatican, where sex is the enemy, where it must be controlled by men who know nothing about it, or so we would like to think.» The BBC reports that according to the Church, “The number of new claims of sexual abuse made against US Roman Catholic priests rose by 16% to more than 800 last year”

One can only supports a spiritual and human awakening, an awakening that would lead to evidences-based prevention interventions and discourses, an awakening that would lead to a reduction in HIV transmission. But it is doubtful that this is the kind of awakening the pontiff has in mind.

How can a man with so little legitimacy but so much power on other’s decisions in life be left airing such dangerous ignorance in public without a global outcry? Nobody expects the head of the Church to change his mind or the credo, but showing a minimum of respect for human life by having the decency to remain silent on issue the pontiff knows nothing about would be a minimum.

Burning condoms literally or metaphorically does not and is not going to help fighting HIV. Burning a backward and irrelevant institution might. By the time you finish reading this post 20 people will have been infected by HIV, 17 of them in Africa. In most case, a condom, properly used could have prevented the infection.

The madness of Pope Benedict

March 23, 12:50 PM
Okay, it isn't exactly the madness of King George, but I'd say the Pope is out of touch with reality. Seriously, how is it that this man still holds the Pope position? It is not just naysayers who disagree with him, but Catholics far and wide do as well.

He has been making quite a splash across newspapers and Web sites around the globe for some time now. It was pretty bad that he lifted the excommunication of Williamson, the Holocaust denier. Never mind his appointment of a bishop in Linz, Austria who said that Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution for sin.

Now he has come out to say that condoms should not be used in HIV/AIDS stricken Africa. Rather, he preaches abstinence. He should know by now that abstinence doesn't work. All he has to do is ask the sex abuse victims of the many predatory priests who swore a vow, to God no less, of abstinence to know the truth. If the most devout Christians cannot abstain, what makes him think that those in the general population will? Is he really that delusional? Surely the millions of dollars that have been paid out to victims should be a reminder to him that abstinence doesn't work.

And if that weren't enough, the Pope decried the superstitions that remain in parts of Africa. He urged Angola Catholics to reach out and help to convert those who believe in witchcraft. According to an MSNBC report, he said, "In today's Angola, Catholics should offer the message of Christ to the many who live in the fear of spirits, of evil powers by whom they feel threatened, disoriented, even reaching the point of condemning street children and even the most elderly because — they say — they are sorcerers."

I suppose the Pope thinks his brand of chicanery is better than witchcraft (not that I condone witchcraft). So, instead of those people living in fear of evil spirits they should be converted to believe in Satan and his power and they should be introduced to the fear of Hell and so on. Uh huh. Apparently replacing one set of superstitions with another set is the answer.

Let us not forget that the Pope, while condemning sexual violence, condemns abortion even in the case of rape and when the mother's life is at risk. I heard that although he excommunicated those who helped a nine-year-old rape victim get an abortion, it is not clear if he excommunicated the rapist. How many of his own raping, child-molesting priests were excommunicated? It would seem he thinks that abortion is far worse than rape...

Honestly, this man clearly does not seem to be in touch with reality. His antiquated solutions are just that... antiquated. They have no place in the real world. It is such a shame that this man cleaves so tightly to his religious texts and ideologies that he cannot see past them at what is really going on all around him.

Surely the fact that he seems to live in a world all his own, where reality does not resonate, has to be indicative of some form of madness. His take on reality certainly doesn't seem sane to me.... Really, what is this man thinking? Does he think? Whose side is he on anyway? God's side? What about being on the side of humanity for a change?


Condom War: Another Catholicus Ignoramus: Cardinal Pell from down under

The head of the Catholic Church in Australia has open his mouth to add primate bunk to previous pontifical nonsense.

Unsurprisingly, the Cardinal Pell from down under endorsed the papal comment made in Africa that condoms “can even increase the problem” of HIV, adding that, “The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous”.

HIV and AIDS have been jumbled with quite a lot of nonsense but to relate it with a great spiritual crisis is a rather interesting novelty. With the Church in charge of the spiritual (alongside our sex-life), one wonders is the Cardinal is advertising for his own business on the back of HIV infected people.

Reporting a conversation with “a non-Catholic health worker”, the Cardinal added that “people in remote areas are too poor to afford condoms and the ones that are available are often of very poor quality and weren’t used effectively.” For crying out loud, isn’t that saying that what is needed are good quality condom provided as an affordable price? What about fre condoms?

But of course not, because and without a shred of evidence Cardinal Pell added that “Condoms are encouraging promiscuity. They are encouraging irresponsibility.” How could condoms encourage promiscuity? And if they were, would it matter as long as people are using them whilst being promiscuous? There is no evidence that people who started anti HIV treatment or men who were circumcised became more promiscuous. So why the idea of using a condom or their availability would be any different? There is little hope that the Cardinal could understand what is sacerdotal vestments forbid him to know.

Adding misinformation to ignorance the prelate could not refrain harking back the old red herring of Thailand vs. the Philippines: “If you look at the Philippines you’ll see the incidence of AIDS is much lower than it is in Thailand which is awash with condoms.”

The myth was debunked here on peripheries, but it might be wise looking at more recent data from UNAIDS. For example at the estimated number of people living with HIV in 2001 vs. 2007 in the Philippines, <1000 vs. 8300 and Thailand, 660,000 vs. 610,000. Of course the number of people living with HIV is much higher in Thailand (see previous posting for an understanding of why) but it has also decreased between 2001 and 2007 whilst the figure has increased in The Philippines and is set to increase even more in the coming years if nothing is done now to ensure that the virus does not find a fertile Christian soil to multiply, like it did in Africa.

The catholic’s answer to HIV? As always, abstinence and faithfulness. But as pointed out by Don Baxter in The Australian, the pontiff’s comments about condoms could easily be misunderstood in Africa, where it is common for men and women to have several concurrent sexual partners but still see themselves as being faithful. “Calls for not using condoms and being faithful are heard by Africans to mean if they have regular partners, they don’t need to wear condoms,” said Baxter.

Abstinence is one method of preventing the transmission of HIV, condom is another one. To discourage the use of one or the other is plain stupid and irresponsible. Is it even stupider if it is done on spiritual background, because the HIV virus can be killed with a sign of the cross over someone and a few drop of holy water.

Cardinal Pell is not alien to controversy, in October 2007 he challenged the cause of climate change: “I am certainly skeptical about extravagant claims of impending man-made climatic catastrophes, because the evidence is insufficient. Climate change has always occurred. Scientific debate is not decided by any changing consensus, even if it is endorsed by public opinion.”

It is definitively a hard time for enlightenment, especially within the Catholic Church.


HIV on the rise in the Philippines: Will condoms do any good?

May 19th, 2009

Since the papal comment about condoms and the HIV epidemic, there has been a flurry of articles written in support of the pontifical nonsense. These often call upon a comparison between “sinful” Thailand, awash with HIV and condoms, and the “holly” Philippines where there is not such thing as HIV or condoms (a bit like in Iran).

Does this sound slightly over the top? Not really. Kathleen Gilbert writing for the LifesSiteNews website quotes Yolly Eileen Gamutam, head of the Asia’s Catholic Association of Doctors, Nurses and Health Professionals (ACIM-Asia) saying that “Condoms are highly dangerous.” Gilbert added that “by the end of 2003, Thailand, with a population of 63 million, registered 570,000 HIV-positive adults and children. Gamutam compared the statistic to the Philippines, where only 9,000 Filipinos were HIV-positive out of a population of 80 million. 500 died of AIDS in the Philippines that year, while 58,000 perished in Thailand.”

peripheries has already addressed this misleading and inappropriate comparison but it is necessary to add that comparing two countries at one time point is rather meaningless. That the head of an association of doctors allows herself to be so unscientific is rather disappointing, if not telling that religion and science are definitively two nonoverlapping magisteria.

But let’s look at the figures available from UNAIDS and let’s compare the number of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) at two time points:

In 2001 there was 660,000 adults and children living with HIV and AIDS and this figure dropped to 610,000 in 2007. In the Philippines, the number of PLWHA rose from less than 1,000 to 8300 and has been continuously on the rise since 2006.

Without fear or shame and against all evidences, Yolly Eileen Gamutam concluded that “the condom use program in Thailand is not effective.” Mechai Viravaidya, politician and leading Thai AIDS activist who introduced a 100% condoms policy in brothel where HIV was raging and henceforth contributed to a reduction of the number of PLWHA from 2% to 1.4% in 10 years (1997-2007) and the successful containment of the epidemic, will appreciate how his work and continuous efforts are being so promptly dismissed.

The rise in the number of HIV infections in the Philippines may not seem dramatic now but it may have some serious consequences later if not controlled. Conscious of the consequences of inaction, the Filipino government, who in the past adopted an approach to the epidemic that limited its progression in the general population, was considering a controversial bill on reproductive health at the end of 2008.

Another worrying concern about the rising HIV epidemic in the Philippines is that it is so far mostly observed amongst Men who have Sex with Men. The health departmental HIV/AIDS registry recorded 210 new infections among MSM in 2005, 309 in 2006 and 342 in 2007 and from January to September 2008, there were already 395 cases, up 96 percent since 2005.

And as we all know, before or next to condom, homosexuality is the next “abomination” that the Catholic church condemns with wrathful vehemence.

“The Catholic Church’s centuries-old doctrine, created by a bunch of celibate priests, on sex only for procreation leaves many people ignorant about sexual health. This is the sad reality.

Taking away people’s right to protect themselves, and their right to education and to responsibly manage their sex lives is certainly taking away some of their humanity.” write William Sparrow for the Asia Times.

But not all Catholics are dogmatic or blinded by credo and for example, Catholics for Choice an organisation initially founded to support women’s moral and legal right in a world led by Bishops, started an unprecedented worldwide public education effort to raise public awareness about the devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms. In a recent press release the organisation wrote:

“According to a recent poll commissioned by Catholics for Choice, which interviewed Catholics in Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States, support for condom use among Catholics is overwhelming. When asked if “using condoms is pro-life because it helps save lives by preventing the spread of AIDS,” 90% of Catholics in Mexico, 86% in Ireland, 79% in the US, 77% in the Philippines and 59% in Ghana agreed. Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy’s position holds the most sway in the countries least able to deal economically and medically with the disease.”

A sway leading to death. And as for the role of condoms, they certainly won’t do any harm.


HIV: Thailand versus The Philippines

July 21st, 2008 Posted in Education, Politics, Public Health, Religion

To prove that condoms don’t work, pro-life & anti condoms organisations such as The Illinois Family Institute often cite the case of two Asian countries with almost equal populations: Thailand (pop. 63,753,000) and the Philippines (pop. 88,351,000) and what they call “facts” about the two countries. It reads like that,

“Both countries saw their first cases of AIDS appear in 1984. Both embarked on campaigns to combat the threat and spread of this deadly disease. That’s where the similarity ends. The Philippine government educated its people and stressed the importance of chastity, fidelity in marriage and abstinence outside of marriage. Thailand, on the other hand, embraced “King Condom” and distributed massive numbers of condoms to its people, without any attempt to change people’s behaviour.

Here are the results. As of 2007, there have been a total of 2,965 individuals infected with AIDS in the Philippines, over 23 years! In Thailand, the number is a shocking 1,106,000! In other words, one out of every 21,850 Filipinos have become infected with AIDS – one of every 90 individuals in Thailand are infected.”

Facts? Let’s have a closer look.

Both country saw their first cases of AIDS in 1984, but here ends the similarities. There are several differences both cultural and social between Thailand and The Philippines, most importantly in the way these two countries have dealt with the rising epidemics in the 90s at a time when appropriate action would make all the difference. When HIV arrived in the Philippines, it was to meet a soil much less propitious to its dissemination.

Amongst the cultural differences the most important one is that Filipino men are circumcised whilst Thai men are not. Recent studies have shown that circumcision reduces the risk of being infected by HIV by up to 50%.

Whilst in the late 80s the epidemic fired up amongst drug users and sex workers in Thailand, the position of the Thai government was that it was only a disease that affected foreigners and that Thai shouldn’t worry . A government official is often quoted saying that “The general public need not be alarmed. Thai-to-Thai transmission is not in evidence.”

In contrast, in The Philippines the epidemics did not catch up, in particular amongst sex workers because early efforts to screen and treat sex workers since the early 1990s when Philippines approach the epidemics with more sense and less jingoism. Not only sex workers were screened and tested for HIV but also for other sexually transmitted diseases which have been associated with increased risks of HIV infection. Remember that to enter the body, the virus needs to go through the wall of cells that line up the inside of the vagina. Any other infection that may damage this wall will increase the chance of the HIV virus to pass through and enter the blood stream. By addressing these STD, and by providing treatment to HIV infected people, the viral load is kept at a low level and the risk of infection is reduced, even without condom.

What about the suggestion that Filipinos know more about HIV than Thai? In 2008 USAID reports that “approximately two-thirds of young women lack comprehensive knowledge on HIV transmission, and 90 percent of the population of reproductive age believe you can contract HIV by sharing a meal with someone”.

And did condoms failed in Thailand? Thanks to the “Condom King” (Senator Mechai Viravaidya) and its ‘100% condom’ program in brothels and national awareness campaigns, by the end of 2005, national HIV prevalence was 1.4%, down from 1.8% in 2003 and more than 2% a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, HIV prevalence is on the increase, slowly but surely.

Finally, pro-life and other anti-condoms lobbyists, Christian fundamentalists and their ilk, wants us to believe that abstinence has been doing, is doing and will be doing miracle. They want us to believe that Filipino men go back home after work and enjoy a cold beer watching TV with their wife whilst heterosexual intercourse accounts for the majority (61 percent) of the Philippines’ reported /AIDS cases. They want us to ignore the 1993-4 estimated number of sex workers that range between 100,000 and 600,000 (by comparison, in profane Thailand the estimated number of sex workers in 1997 was only 200,000 to 300,000) whose work account for anywhere between 2 and 14 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (ILO 1998 report). A difference that also lead to a lower number of customers for Filipino sex workers compared to Thai sex workers.

They simply want us to believe that abstinence did it.

Who are they kidding?


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