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Tuesday 29 June 2010

Papua New Guinea: Prosecute religious leaders who spread fear and misinformation about condoms and ART

Now here's a new HIV-specific law I could support: "the prosecution of religious leaders who not only spread misleading information on the use of condoms but also negatively influence a HIV patient not to use the antiretroviral treatment (ART)."

Papua New Guinea's Post-Courier reports that Rod Mitchell, chief executive of the Business Coalition against HIV and AIDS (BAHA) made the calls during a dinner hosted by the NGO addressing the role of religious groups and human rights.

Mr Mitchell said it was vital to spell out some facts, especially about condoms as a method of intervention and dispel some of the myths which had been spoken by church leaders. He said one of these vital facts was that research conducted globally had consistently failed to demonstrate a link between the promotion of condoms and increased sexual activity. Further, condom promotion was one of many critical interventions that when used in comibination provided a comprehensive response to the prevention of HIV. Another that PNG had one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections in the world and that clearly this did not happen in an environment of condom promotion.

Mr Mitchell said to down play the significance of condoms or place doubt in their usage in order to promote family values is both disingenuous and dangerous. He said while in some churches were right in stating condoms had failed to prevent the transmission of HIV, it was not for the reasons they claimed.He said condoms had failed as a prevention strategy because (as research showed) the level of consistent and correct use among population was too low to have ad any impact on reversing the growing HIV epidemic in the country.

“Those few religious leaders that urge their congregation members not to use condoms or spread misleading information on the effectiveness of condoms are doing great disservice. They are endangering lives and should be prosecuted under the HAMP Act,” he said.

Mr Mitchell said other faith groups were stating that faith alone can cure or keep a HIV positive person alive. He said unfortunately a faith-based approach alone does not have evidentiary support in trying to keep HIV positive people healthy.

“Sadly there are too many instances of certain faithbased groups who negatively influence a decision by a person with HIV to not use ART drugs. This included advocating that those already on ART be taken off the life supporting drugs in favour of prayer and faith."

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