RETHINKING AIDS HOMEPAGE
EXPERTS DEFEND CONDOMS
DESPITE US GOV'T REPORT
By Will Dunham
Reuters 20 July 2001
Washington -- Condoms effectively prevent HIV transmission
but data is lacking on whether they work to block most sexually transmitted
diseases, according to a report released on Friday by federal health
The report, a review of existing medical studies, concluded there is
insufficient evidence to judge whether or not male latex condoms effectively
prevent the spread of syphilis, genital herpes, genital human papillomavirus
(HPV) infection, chlamydial infection, chancroid and trichomoniasis.
Some conservatives touted the report as evidence condoms offer no assurance
of protection against a variety of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and
argued for abstaining from sex outside of marriage. But many public health
officials said the report found only that studies regarding condoms were
inadequate or absent, not that condoms were ineffective, and said condoms
were vitally important as a barrier to disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement saying
that "male latex condoms, when used correctly and consistently, are highly
effective in protecting against HIV and can reduce the risk of other sexually
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the
National Institutes of Health, released the report compiled by the panel of
28 experts, who analyzed about 138 published studies on the use of condoms
during penile-vaginal intercourse.
"There was a lack of evidence to help us make a definitive conclusion about
the effectiveness of condoms," said panel member Dr. Timothy Schacker, an
infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota. "So it isn't that
they are ineffective. In fact, I know they're not ineffective. I know they're
Another member of the panel, Dr. J. Thomas Fitch, a pediatrician in private
practice in San Antonio who argues for abstinence, countered: "We need to
tell the public we don't have data to say they are effective. The other side
says, 'Yes, that doesn't mean that they aren't.' That's true. On the other
hand, in medicine we don't usually tell a person something is effective
unless we have data to say they are effective."
Concern About Misinterpretation
Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, medical director for the AIDS program at New York
Presbyterian Hospital and not a panel member, said he was concerned the
study's results might be misinterpreted.
"We have a very difficult time getting people to accept condoms in the first
place. And if there is the perception that they don't work, it's going to be
even more difficult to get people to use condoms, which are effective in
preventing the transmission of the deadliest sexually transmitted disease
(AIDS)," Jacobs said.
The report said studies found an 85 percent drop in risk of transmitting HIV,
the virus that causes AIDS, among consistent condom users versus nonusers.
Experts say condoms have been vital in combating the AIDS epidemic.
The report cited evidence of a big drop in gonorrhea risk among men using
condoms compared with nonusers. It also found condoms to be effective at
preventing unintended pregnancy.
Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection, affect more than 65
million Americans. AIDS is incurable. Many other of the diseases cause
infertility and problems with pregnancy. Long-term infection with HPV can
cause cervical cancer in women. And most STDs increase the likelihood of
transmitting HIV infection.
The study said "the absence of definitive conclusions reflected inadequacies
of the evidence available and should not be interpreted as proof of the
adequacy or inadequacy of the condom to reduce the risk of STDs other than
HIV transmission in men and women and gonorrhea in women."
The report called for "well-designed and ethically sound clinical studies" to
test the effectiveness of condoms in fighting the spread of STDs.
RETHINKING AIDS HOMEPAGE