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Europe backs condom use against AIDS

Europe backs condom use against AIDS

Condoms should be the first line of defense against HIV, United Kingdom and European Union officials said on Thursday, distancing Europe from the United States on the issue. "We have a very good relationship with the Americans," U.K. junior development minister Gareth Thomas said at the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that's riven by a row over whether abstinence from sex or condoms is more effective in preventing the disease. Washington emphasizes abstinence. "But we do have a different approach on access to condoms," Thomas said. "While we believe that encouraging a delay in the start of sexual activity has its place in countries' responses, fundamentally you have to recognize the reality that people are able to make their own decisions about their sex lives. We need to understand that reality and increase access to condoms." The United Kingdom announced a $2.78 billion boost in AIDS funding this week, including extra money for the U.N. Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to support their work on condom distribution. The United States, by contrast, favors condoms for "high risk" groups rather than universal distribution. Its top AIDS official backed Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who caused a storm in Bangkok by saying abstinence was the best way to stem the pandemic. Lieve Fransen, head of the human and social development unit at the European Commission and the top E.U. AIDS official at the conference, said questioning the value of condoms was a backward step in the international battle against AIDS. " I think reinterpretation of science and reinterpretation of messages is not very useful," she told Reuters. "Saying one day that condoms don't work when we know that they work, if you use them, is not the right message." The issue of prevention was a key theme for the meeting on Thursday with a majority of speakers endorsing broader condom use. "One simple message repeated by scientists and leaders at the conference is that condom use is one of the least expensive, most cost-effective methods for preventing HIV transmission," said Joep Lange, president of the International AIDS Society. Throughout the week, the so-called ABC approach--Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms--has been debated hotly. Some people, such as Museveni, have argued such programs must focus largely or exclusively on abstinence to be effective. Critics say that approach is simplistic and could be counterproductive if young people do not obtain information on effective condom use. (Reuters)

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