Since I’ve just finished reading a two-page spread in the Wall Street Journal on sexual assault among staff at the United Nations, I hesitate to refer to a U.N. report in support of what I am about to say on sexual incontinence and AIDS. Still, here it is, as quoted by Edward C. Green, a senior research scientist at Harvard, in a letter to the Washington Post last March: “In 2003, Norman Hearst and Sanny Chen of the University of California conducted a condom effectiveness study for the United Nations’ AIDS program and found no evidence of condoms working as a primary HIV-prevention measure in Africa.”
The United Nations, Harvard, the University of California, and the Washington Post—in short, the left. And look where they find themselves: lining up with the Pope on AIDS. In March, the Pope visited Africa and said the epidemic of AIDS “can’t be resolved with the distribution of condoms, on the contrary, there is the risk of increasing the problem.” That could have come straight from the U.N. report. And nothing could make the United Nations more nervous. As Dr. Green says, “We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this.”
Which is why the United Nations disowned the Hearst-Chen report pretty quickly. Yet the research stands. Articles in peer-reviewed journals such as The Lancet, Science, and the British Medical Journal have since confirmed that condoms have not worked as “a primary intervention” in population-wide epidemics in Africa. Those are the facts.
But then, the left never lets the facts stand in the way of an opinion. For example, there is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of the president of France. In an interview last month, Mrs. Sarkozy attacked the Pope and his policy toward the prevention of AIDS in Africa.
Now, normally one would not bother responding to anything an ex-model has to say on anything, but since she is giving interviews out of the Elysée Palace as the wife of the president of the republic, her interviews have to be considered.
Mrs. Sarkozy told journalists that the Pope was “damaging” countries in Africa with his stance on condoms and AIDS. She insisted the Church must “evolve on this issue.” She said she was born Catholic, but the Pope’s teachings had left her feeling “profoundly secular.”
All you can say to that last bit is, “What?” Everything we know about Carla’s life suggests she has been profoundly “secular” since about puberty. Her most spectacular “secular” move as a single woman was to have a child by the married son of the man who was then her live-in lover. When she decided to marry, it was to a man who had already had two wives and two divorces.
But then Mrs. Sarkozy comes from “secular” stock. She was not the daughter of her presumed father, the Turin tire tycoon Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, but of another Italian millionaire, Maurizio Remmert. Carla’s mother, Marisa, had a six-year affair with Remmert, starting when he was 19 and she was 32. When the story came out during Sarkozy’s pursuit of Carla, Mr. Remmert said, “This story, in Turin, is well known, but by nature, we in Northern Italy are very discreet.”
Or put it another way. This story, in Turin, is well known, too: that the availability of condoms does not ensure responsible sexual behavior between a 19-year-old man and someone else’s 32-year-old wife.
So why should any of these “secular” types imagine the availability of condoms should have such a different effect among people in Africa? As the Pope said, “If Africans do not help by responsible behaviour, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”
Look, Carla Bruni and her husband and their families may do what they like. But what such people are proposing as policy in Africa is to say that Africans must be expected to be as sexually incontinent as they all are—yet to depend on a couple of microns of synthetic rubber to protect them from the deadly consequences.
This policy implies that Africans can never be anything but sexually sluttish, that they don’t understand or do not have the will to practice abstinence or sexual fidelity, so their only possible safety lies in airlifts of condoms—even though all the evidence shows that condoms don’t work.
What does work is to treat Africans like the intelligent people they are, and to abandon the 19th-century bigotry that portrays Africans as people who can be expected to have no control over their sexual urges. Again, Harvard’s Dr. Green: “In Uganda’s early, largely home-grown AIDS program, which began in 1986, the focus was on ‘Sticking to One Partner’ or ‘Zero Grazing’ (which meant remaining faithful within a polygamous marriage) and ‘Loving Faithfully.’ These simple messages worked.”
Swaziland and Botswana are now launching similar programs. Condoms will only be a “back-up” strategy for those who cannot or will not remain in a mutually faithful relationship. What works in Africa, as in any other country, is just deciding not to screw around. That of course is a policy Madame Sarkozy cannot grasp.