UN AIDS summit overcomes condom resistance

An AIDS summit yesterday gave the most explicit UN backing yet to the use of condoms. Negotiators said they had to overcome fierce opposition from the Vatican and conservative Muslim countries to get the final communique to even mention the latex contraceptive.

Instead of talking simply about the importance of abstinence and fidelity, the statement stresses the "correct and consistent use of condoms." The Vatican led protests at the summit final session.

"It is a first at the UN General Assembly," said a diplomat who took part in two months of hard-fought negotiations on the text.

"We are very happy about this. It is very explicit and will definitely help our work to overcome resistance and fears about condoms," said George Tembo, head of the AIDS/HIV department at the UN Population Fund.

The global need for condoms to combat HIV and for family planning has shot up from an estimated 13 billion in 2004 to about 19 billion in 2010, according to the UN Population Fund.

Tembo said the UN agency gave out about 3.2 billion condoms in target countries in 2010, up from 2.7 billion the year before.

India's Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the summit about the "door-to-door distribution" of male and female condoms by thousands of social health activists in his country.

The condoms will initially be delivered to homes in 17 Indian provinces covering an approximate population of 200 million people "and will be scaled up to cover the entire country soon," the minister said.

India also has the Red Ribbon Express train crossing the country giving out condoms and advice on preventing AIDS.

A similar effort is gathering pace in many countries, especially in Africa which has borne the brunt of the AIDS pandemic that has killed 30 million people since it first appeared 30 years ago.

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