published Monday, January 28, 2008
Health officials Sunday began distributing millions of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases during Brazil's five-day Carnaval.
The government expects to hand out 19.5 million condoms by Carnaval's end Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, state news service Agencia Brasil reported, under the program first launched several years ago.
"We have to let society know the importance of prevention," Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said as he kicked off the campaign at a Rio de Janeiro cultural center.
Church officials in Brazil -- home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population -- have opposed the condom program, as well as another plan to hand out morning-after pills during Carnaval in the city of Recife.
"The church has nothing against having fun during Carnaval, but the banalization of human sexuality is something we cannot tolerate," Bishop Antonio Augusto Dias Duarte of the Life and Family Commission of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops said last week. "It will only serve to diminish inhibitions and encourage orgiastic behavior."
About 80 percent of young men polled by the Health Ministry reported using condoms, although just 40% of women said they insist on it, Temporao said, without giving more details on the survey. Nearly 600,000 Brazilians are HIV-positive, of whom 200,000 are being treated, he said.
The United Nations has praised Brazil's AIDS treatment program, which provides free antiviral medications that significantly improve life expectancy, as a global model. (AP)