Condom Restrictions Cost Lives

(New York, November 30, 2004) - Needless restrictions on condoms and
HIV/AIDS information are undermining the global fight against the
epidemic, Human Rights Watch charged today in a paper
<> released today on
World AIDS Day. Condoms remain the single most effective device against
sexually transmitted HIV, yet they face government-imposed constraints
in numerous countries across the globe.

The 30-page briefing paper
<> documents censorship
of information about condoms in government-funded programs, myths about
condoms spread by religious leaders, and restrictions on condoms in
numerous countries. In some places, police confiscate condoms from AIDS
outreach workers and use them as evidence of illegal prostitution or

"Governments should be promoting condom use, not treating condoms like
contraband," said Jonathan Cohen, a researcher with Human Rights Watch's
HIV/AIDS Program. "The clear result of restricting access to condoms
will be more lives lost to AIDS."

The World Health Organization and other international health agencies
share the broad consensus that condoms used correctly are highly
effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV. While condoms
are clearly not a complete solution to HIV/AIDS, international agencies
agree that providing complete and accurate information about the proper
use of condoms to reduce the risk of HIV transmission is an essential
part of the limited anti-HIV arsenal.

But government-sponsored programs of many countries - including India,
Nigeria, Peru and the United States - restrict access to these anti-HIV
tools. In 2003, less than half of all people worldwide at risk of sexual
transmission of HIV had access to condoms. Even fewer had access to
basic HIV/AIDS education. Where school-based HIV/AIDS programs exist,
they often conceal information about condoms for fear of promoting
promiscuity or birth control.

The United States, the world's leading donor to HIV/AIDS programs,
continues to ramp up its support for "abstinence until marriage"
HIV-prevention programs that stress condoms' very low failure rate,
rather than their effectiveness in preventing HIV infection. When used
correctly and consistently, condoms provide nearly 100-percent
protection against HIV.

(c) 2004 Yael Gottlieb/Human Rights Watch

"In the U.S., the Bush Administration is spending millions of dollars on
abstinence-only programs that mislead people at risk of HIV/AIDS about
the effectiveness of condoms," said Rebecca Schleifer, a researcher with
Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS Program. "Exporting these programs to
countries facing even more serious HIV/AIDS epidemics will only make the
situation worse around the world."

In many countries, political and religious leaders make public
statements associating condoms with sin or sexual promiscuity, or
providing misleading information about condoms' effectiveness. The
Vatican explicitly objects to condom use and has publicly distorted
scientific information about condoms. Senior Vatican officials have
blamed condoms for the spread of HIV/AIDS. They have made false
scientific claims suggesting that HIV can permeate microscopic pores in
condoms - a claim that flies in the face of science.

Nongovernmental organizations in many countries offer a critical source
of HIV/AIDS information and condoms, especially to marginalized groups
like sex workers and men who have sex with men. But police harassment of
frontline HIV/AIDS educators in countries like India and Bangladesh
undermines this important work. In some cases, police treat the
provision of condoms to men who have sex with men as an act abetting
sodomy, which is criminalized under colonial-era laws in numerous
countries. Police also use the possession of condoms to justify
harassment of those who encourage sex workers to use condoms.


Related Material

Access to Condoms and HIV/AIDS Information: A Global Health and Human
Rights Concern <>
Background Briefing, November 30, 2004

Condoms, Clean Needles, and Generic Drugs: Key Issues for the XV
International AIDS Conference <>
Campaign Document, July 10, 2004

AIDS Epidemic Looms over Philippines
Commentary, July 7, 2004

Unprotected: Sex, Condoms and the Human Right to Health
Report, May 5, 2004

Philippines: Anti-Condom Policies Could Spark AIDS Explosion
Press Release, May 5, 2004

More Information on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights
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