The Great Thailand Experiment: Why condoms shouldn't be used to
by Dr. Orestes Monzon
PHILIPPINES-A recent meeting of the ASEAN task force on AIDS noted
the continued opposition of the region's conservative societies
and resolved to promote more aggressively the use of condoms to
stem the disease. It held up Thailand's efforts to promote the
condom as a model for the rest of the region. "Everyone looks at
what happened to Thailand," Reuter quoted an Indonesian official
as saying. "They have a lot to share with us."
Presumably, the Philippine government, which has increasingly
ignored the religious and cultural sensibilities of Filipinos by
advocating the use of condoms and even by having some public
school students instructed on how to use them, shares the view
that Thailand is the best model to fight AIDS.
But is it really? Alas, no. Thailand is the region's worst AIDS
case, with more than one million Thais projected to be infected
with the HIV virus by the year 2000. Thailand's number-one fan,
Indonesia, has the next worst case with around 750,000 cases by
the end of the decade, followed by Vietnam with 300,000 cases.
"Conservative" societies like the Philippines and Malaysia will
have 90,000 and 30,000 cases, respectively.
For medical practitioners like me, the trumpeting of Thailand as
the region's best AIDS-prevention performer is insane.
Widespread condom promotion
Thailand was ahead of the region in starting widespread condom
promotion. As early as the 1970s, it had been distributing condoms
to prostitutes, their clients, and just about everyone-including
children with no knowledge of the sexual act. The popular Thai
health minister earned the sobriquet "Mr. Condom" for his creative
ways of promoting the "rubber" by demystifying it. Many of us
still remember him blowing a condom and popping it like a balloon
during a talk at the Asian Institute of Management. He even got a
Magsaysay Award for his campaign.
But all the awards given him and the praises heaped on him by an
adulatory media won't sugar-coat the fact that Thailand is losing
the battle against AIDS. Thousands are dying in Thailand because
of an irresponsible campaign that views illicit sex as alright
just as long as it is "safe." Thousands of Filipinos will die too
if the government persists in its "safe-sex" campaign.
The reason is simple. The condom is not fool-proof protection
either against pregnancy or HIV. It has a failure rate of 12 to 18
percent in preventing pregnancy. Some studies even show a failure
rate of up to 30 percent.
HIV: smaller than sperm
Presumably the failure rate for AIDS prevention is higher because
HIV is much smaller than sperm. This fact was driven home during
the uproar in 1992 when the Washington, D.C. government passed out
condoms in the public schools in a campaign to make "sexual
relations with HIV carriers safe."
C.M. Roland, head of the Polymer Properties Section of the Naval
Research Laboratory on rubber, chemistry and technology,
criticized the move. "Because the AIDS virus is in order of
magnitude smaller than the sperm, the situation is actually
worse," he said, explaining that the virus is only 0.1 micron in
Roland added: "Moreover, there exists direct evidence of voids in
rubber-comprising condoms. Electron micrographs reveal voids of 5
microns in size (50 times larger than the virus), while fracture
mechanics analyses, sensitive to the largest flaws present,
suggest inherent flaws as large as 50 microns (500 times the size
of the virus)."
Another reason why the condom fails is improper handling. Latex
condoms can be damaged through exposure to air pollution, heat and
light, ozone and humidity. In the sexual act itself, condom
slippage and breakage rates are as high as 15 percent.
Ingredient for disaster
Many condom advocates, in and out of government, are now urging
that children be educated in the use of condoms. In fact, there
are reports that students in some public schools in Manila and
Cebu are taking part in pilot projects by the education department
to promote condom use. This is a sure ingredient for disaster,
partly because it rests on the thin hope that young people will
use condoms reliably.
Parents may well wonder whether children who sometimes forget
closing the door behind them can ever remember to use a condom
while in the heat of passion. And if they do, can they use it
Even the most "modern" of societies with long experience in
contraception aren't exemplary in the proper use of condoms.
Witness the United States, where leaders of value-free sex
education and promotion of contraception and abortion among her
young people have not exactly brought about a decreased incidence
of teenage pregnancies, much less a decline in AIDS cases. For
that matter, witness Thailand.
What seems to have been overlooked by our health planners is that
massive condom promotion in Thailand goes hand-in-hand with the
massive sex tourism which has underpinned that country's fantastic
growth since the 1970s. Uncritical Filipinos always marvel at the
Thais for not having any "hangups" about casual sex and point to
their Buddhist religion-presumably open-minded, as contrasted with
"medieval" Catholicism-as the cause. But as shown by the Thai
government's aggressive promotion of condoms and prostitution, the
reason is not cultural or religious, but commercial.
Kid-glove treatment of prostitution
Considering our government's kid-glove treatment of prostitution,
we may not be too far behind Thailand. In fact, health workers are
reputed to be working double-time to distribute condoms to
prostitutes. Moreover, red-light districts have sprouted in Manila
and Cebu, the prostitution dens operating with protection from
corrupt police and local officers. These places are even built
near schools without the authorities raising a finger.
Now, even the schools are slowly becoming part of the sex
industry. With the gradual introduction of amoral sex-education
modules that instruct children in the use of condoms and other
contraceptives, with the bombardment of young people with "safe-
sex" messages in the media, the government is condoning casual sex
and (indirectly) mercantile prostitution.
Instead of teaching the young the right values and the proper
regard for the sexual act, our government is using the schools and
the media to cheapen sex. The beneficiary of all this is sex
tourism. We don't know if this is part of the Ramos
administration's "moral recovery program."
Thus, it behooves parents to establish their own "moral recovery
program." They should not allow their children to fall prey to the
government's "safe-sex" promotion, which is a mask for its
alliance with white slavery.
The condom and other contraceptives are protection neither against
"unwanted" pregnancy nor AIDS. The most effective protection is
chastity, the proper regard for the sexual act, which only
practicing Christian parents can teach their children. Good
parents know that sex is neither "safe" nor "unsafe." It is either
moral or immoral.
Dr. Orestes Monzon, the executive director of HLI Asia, is
secretary general of the ASEAN Association of Radiology.
Taken from the January 1997 issue of "HLI Reports."
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