Questions have arisen recently over whether the HIV virus can or cannot pass through pores in latex condoms. EU research projects provide extensive proof that this is not the case: if properly used, condoms are safe. Over the last 15 years, the Commission has supported about a dozen research initiatives in this field across Europe, as well as in Asia and Africa, the areas most affected by the AIDS pandemic. EU projects focused on condoms' potential porosity and quality standards, and included surveys of infection transmission in couples and prostitutes. Scientific evidence shows that condoms are the only effective protection against HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS kills over 3 million people every year, and the fight against this virus relies mostly on protective measures, including condoms.
European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: “I rely on statements that are based on sound scientific evidence and we can demonstrate that condoms are the best way to prevent HIV infection. Statements not supported by sound scientific evidence are not plausible.”
“Condoms are part of the solution,” added Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson. “The condemnation of condoms is part of the problem.”
A global killer
HIV/AIDS is the worst pandemic the world has ever faced. Every year, five million people are infected with the virus, and over 3 million die, most of them without receiving any treatment. The most affected populations are the poorest, most vulnerable ones. The lack of effective treatment against the virus is forcing all efforts to be concentrated on prevention strategies, including the use of condoms.
With over 40 million HIV infected people in the world, prevention measures have to be based on scientific evidence. During the last 15 years, the European Commission has financed several research projects aimed at studying, (directly or indirectly), the use of condoms as a preventive measure against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. These projects were carried out not only in Europe, but also in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where the burden of the HIV epidemic is at its highest. All the studies concluded that the male condom was an effective way of preventing the transmission of HIV, with an efficacy close to 100% when the condom is used appropriately.
The security and effectiveness of barrier devices against HIV transmission has also been evaluated in a project aimed at evaluating and comparing methods to find holes in condoms. This EC-funded project, “Assessment of methods for finding holes in condoms”, analysed water, ion and air permeability for setting quality control standard of condoms. The conclusions of this study were used to standardise the evaluation methods for producing safer and more secure condoms.
Sharply reducing risks
A European multi-centre study, funded by the European Commission through several research projects including “AIDS: heterosexual transmission” and “EC concerted action on the heterosexual transmission of HIV”, followed 563 couples with one seropositive partner over 12-21 months. Out of 123 couples using condoms for each instance of vaginal or anal intercourse, no seroconversions occurred; 12 seroconversions occurred among 122 partners who did not use condoms regularly. The consortium concluded that no HIV transmission occurs among systematic condom users.
Another EU-funded project on 866 female prostitutes from European countries, “HIV infection in female prostitutes”, concluded that the lack of condom use was associated with HIV infections. The study also stated that petroleum-based lubricants could diminish the efficacy of condoms.
A recent meeting of international HIV experts funded by the EU, held in Antwerp, from 12-15 May 2002, concluded that the male condom is the only effective protection against HIV transmission.