Church's stance on condom use irresponsible, says Tutu

The Catholic Church's policy on AIDS prevention, which condemns the use of condoms as a means of preventing the spread of HIV…

The Catholic Church's policy on AIDS prevention, which condemns the use of condoms as a means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, was described as irresponsible today by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Speaking in Dublin at a major UN conference on AIDS/HIV, the Archbishop said sexual promiscuity should not be encouraged, but dealing with spread of the disease must take precedence.

"Of course we would wish people to be faithful to one partner ... but we have to accept in the real world marriages break down and be realistic in this matter of condom use."

He also chided governments for the failure to do more to address the epidemic. He condemned the "conspiracy of silence" surrounding HIV/AIDS and reminded delegates from 55 countries around the world that they were not "powerless".

"To deny or obfuscate is to fiddle while our Rome is burning," he added.

Archbishop Tutu's comments were endorsed by campaigner and musician Bob Geldof, who criticised the lack of ambition in the conferences draft declaration.

"The Declaration should put in place dates for effective national leadership, strategies and structures to be set up in order to combat the epidemic," Mr Geldof said.

He reminded the conference, entitled Breaking the Barriers - the Fight against HIV/AIDS in Europe and Central Asia, of the speedy reaction to the threat of SARS and bird flu.

He said the response was so effective and swift because the disease was an immediate threat to "monogamous, responsible, non-drug-using people".

The draft declaration reconfirms the commitments of a number of previous conferences, in particular the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001.

It acknowledges that sufferers have a role in forming "ethical and effective national responses to the epidemic". It also recommends continuing investment in medical research and development of vaccines and palliative drugs.

The elimination of HIV infection among infants in Europe and Central Asia by 2010 and ensuring 80 per cent of injecting drug users have access to treatment and "harm-reduction" services, is also advocated.

Free syringe and prophylactic programmes are recommended as part of a preventative strategy which includes education of at least 90 per cent of young men and women aged 15 to 24.

The draft declaration expresses "profound concern that in the European and Central Asian region at least 2.1 million of our people are now living with HIV/AIDS".

It also includes a commitment to closely monitor the initiatives and called for biennial monitoring of a variety of other schemes, beginning in 2006.

It notes the disease in Eastern Europe is "reaching critical levels" and "has significant potential" to rapidly spread in South-Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It also expresses concern "the resurgence of HIV/AIDS prevalence in Western Europe".