Brazilian government and church argue over condoms

The Brazilian government on Monday defended its promotion of condom use as a way to combat AIDS after leading church officials in this predominantly Roman Catholic country denounced the policy.

"The government cannot base its public health policies on moral and religious principles," Mariangela Simao, head the Health Ministry's anti-AIDS program, said in a statement posted Monday on the ministry's Web site. "Promoting the use of condoms is and will continue being one of the main pillars of Brazil's prevention policy."

Simao's statement which comes just two months before Pope Benedict XVI's scheduled to visit Brazil is in response to comments made over the weekend by some of the country's leading church officials who criticized the government's policy, saying it leads to promiscuity and irresponsible sex.

"The use of the condom encourages people to have inconsequential and irresponsible sex," Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, told Globo TV on Sunday. "We cannot agree with the use of the condom."

Last week, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took a swipe at the church, saying sex education is the best way to combat AIDS and teenage pregnancy.

Silva said that 30 percent of Brazilian girls aged 15 to 17 leave school due to pregnancy and argued that sex education could help solve the problem.

He also said that educating people about the risks of sex can help fight the spread of AIDS.

The Brazilian government's anti-AIDS program, which provides free anti-viral treatment to anyone who needs it, has been held up by international organizations as a model for the developing world.

The government also distributes tens of millions of condoms each year in an effort to stem the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Experts attribute the condom distribution and frank talk about sex and AIDS for containing the epidemic in Latin America's largest country.

In 1990, the World Bank estimated Brazil would have 1.2 million people infected with HIV by 2000. Today, half that number, about 600,000 Brazilians, are estimated to be infected with HIV, reports AP.

Since 1980, 183,000 Brazilians have died from the virus or from related causes.

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