Edward C. Green is one of the world's leading field researchers on the spread of HIV and public health interventions. He's the director of the Harvard AIDS Prevention Research Project, and is a leading advocate for evidence-based interventions. He has been sharply criticized by some public health experts for supporting sexual partner reduction programs and for endorsing the so-called ABC method ("Abstain, Be faithful, or use a Condom") for fighting the transmission of HIV. After Pope Benedict's comments earlier this week, Green agreed to answer Christianity Today deputy managing editor Tim Morgan's questions by e-mail.
Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?
This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it's unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments — at least his major comments, the ones I have seen.
What does the evidence show about the effectiveness of condom-use strategies in reducing HIV infection rates among large-scale populations?
It will be easiest if we confine our discussion to Africa, because that's where the pope is, and that is what he was talking about. There's no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the "level of population." This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population. Major articles published in Science, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and even Studies ...1