Good news on AIDS in Africa

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Or at least in Zimbabwe, which has shown dramatic reductions in rates of HIV infection. Key to the reduction, according to a new study funded by the United Nations and reported on the medical news site Medscape, was behavior change, at least among urban men, who reduced their number of sexual partners and paid for sex less often. Rates of HIV infection went from about 29 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 2007.

These results would seem to bolster the traditional Catholic argument that the proper response to the AIDS pandemic is what Pope Benedict recently called an increasing "humanization" of sexuality, a moral approach. In the case of Zimbabwe, fear of death seems to have been a factor as well. Whatever it takes.

Some may also argue in light of this evidence that the church should continue to oppose the use of condoms in the fight of against HIV. I have argued the opposite, suggesting most recently in my February column that the pope has opened the possibility for the use of condoms in certain situations. I stand by that position: While it is great that many men chose to change their behavior, many women, especially those who sell sex to survive, do not have that option, and in some cultures wives do not have the ability to decline to have sex with their HIV-infected husbands. The church, by sanctioning condoms in these complex situations, may be able to help women protect themselves.

In a perfect world, perhaps such concessions would not be necessary. But a perfect world is not the one we live in.