AIDS and Catholicism In Africa : An Artists’s Perspective

Is there a relation between the church’s rigid stance against contraception and spread of AIDS, at least in Africa? That was the question that artist Sebastian Errazuriz asked himself.

A self-proclaimed obsessive workaholic who walks a fine line between both art and design, dabbling in both disciplines and doing both with equal verve, Sebastian is also known for his strong sense of social responsibility. After years of opposing the Catholic church’s stance on contraception he developed a hunch that “there might be a correlation between religious positions on contraceptive measures and the transmission rates of HIV.”

He sought to seek the answer in the way he knows the best : through art. Collecting statistics about AIDS, he constructed two maps of Africa, — one depicting the prevalence of the disease and the other, the predominant religions in the region. The resulting maps “presented side by side show an incredible visual story regarding the artist’s investigation into this issue”.

However the artist also cautions that “It would be completely irresponsible to establish a definitive correlation without further studies, but the eerie coincidence of a higher spread of AIDS in predominately Christian countries demands further review”.

My scientific curiosity was aroused by the striking visuals and I immediately ran a search in the MEDLINE data base for studies exploring relation if any between HIV and Catholicism in Africa. Unfortunately, the search yielded just 10 results, out of which majority were conducted before the dawn of the present century.

The only remotely relevant study in recent times was from Ghana, a West African country fighting the AIDS epidemic, and one where religious activities are more pronounced . The results of the 2003 study indicated that Ghanese women’s religious affiliation had a significant effect on knowledge of AIDS. However, the authors of the study did not find religious affiliation to be associated with changes in specific protective behaviour, particularly the use of condoms.

After reading through the available literature and seeing Sebastian’s maps, my own hunch is that religion can add to the problem (HIV transmission) in economically disadvantaged regions.