South Africa should promote condoms more widely to try and curb its Aids epidemic, says the head of the United Nations Aids programme.
"We all like simple solutions, but anything that has the word 'only' in it is not effective," UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot told reporters at the third South African Aids conference in Durban.
But he singled out condoms, which meet a lot of resistance in South Africa, as highly effective and criticised U.S. President George Bush's abstinence-only HIV-prevention strategy.
"If there is one thing that works and that prevents people from HIV, it is condoms," Piot said.
While condoms are widely accessible and affordable for most South Africans, they are often shunned, especially by men who consider prophylactics cut down on their sexual pleasure.
Others, especially in rural black communities, have been dissuaded from using them due to superstitions, including a belief that condoms are infected with worms.
Greater prevention efforts needed
While praising South Africa's government for pledging to dramatically expand access to life-saving Aids drugs and HIV-testing, Piot said the continent's economic powerhouse needed greater efforts to prevent new infections, which are occurring at a rate of about 1 500 per day.
He said that male circumcision, abstinence and social programmes designed to combat violence against women were among the weapons that would protect people from the virus.
An estimated 12 percent of South Africa's 47 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that can lead to Aids.
South Africa has tried to counter resistance to condoms and pledged to continue doing so when it unveiled in March a revamped national Aids battle plan that aims to halve new HIV infections and raise the number of HIV-positive people taking antiretroviral drugs fivefold by 2011.
Aids activists and researchers have expressed delight with the plan, which followed rising international frustration with what was seen as South Africa's feeble approach to the epidemic.
But they have also raised concerns about the country's capacity and resolve to implement proven HIV prevention and treatment strategies.
South Africa is widely considered to have the best healthcare on the continent, but suffers a crippling shortage of healthcare workers and a high rate of poverty.
Only about 15 percent of South Africans have private health insurance. Most depend upon a creaky government-run system. – (ReutersHealth)