By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
ROME (CNS) — Prevention and education programs need to target the newest victims of HIV/AIDS — married women — said a United Nations official at an HIV/AIDS conference.
Karen Stanecki, a UNAIDS senior adviser, told the conference that although transmission of the virus in some countries is still highest among homosexuals, intravenous drug users and sex workers the rate of new infections for these groups has drastically declined since it peaked in 2001.
Instead, she said, in some countries the number of married women contracting the virus has been steadily increasing every year.
Stanecki was a speaker at a Dec. 20 conference on how governments, the church and pharmaceutical companies are partnering to help provide care, support and treatment for the nearly 40 million people with HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Embassy to the Vatican sponsored the one-day conference in Rome.
Stanecki said a third of all new infections in Thailand occur in married women while new cases have declined for drug users and sex workers.
Married women in sub-Saharan Africa “are also more likely to be affected than unmarried women,” she said.
“The message being sent out needs to change” to help married women prevent infection, she said.
While UNAIDS promotes the use of condoms in preventing HIV, the church advocates abstinence before marriage and fidelity during marriage.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, told conference participants that chastity is seen as an absurdity “in a pansexual world that ridicules it.”
He urged individuals to “have the courage to proclaim clearly the virtue of chastity” as one of the many Christian virtues that lead to true happiness.
The cardinal told reporters that a Vatican study on the use of condoms within marriage when one partner was infected was still under review by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Currently there is no official church position on the use of condoms by married couples to prevent the transmission of a virus, though the church opposes the use of any artificial means of contraception — including condoms — that would interfere with the transmission of life within marriage.
Cardinal Lozano said in November that, at the request of Pope Benedict XVI, his office had written up and handed in “a large study” on the argument to the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation. His office was still waiting for a response to the study from the congregation and the pope, he said Dec. 20.