Fausto Gomez OP
In two pieces, I wish to share with my readers some basic points regarding HIV-AIDS: its nature and causes, ways to control the HIV virus and to prevent its spread, and on our attitude as human beings and as Christians regarding the persons who have contracted HIV/AIDS. In this first piece or article, let us reflect briefly on the nature of HIV/AIDS, its causes, and the need to control it and prevent it.
Facts on HIV/AIDS and how may it be transmitted
While HIV-AIDS is generally decreasing throughout the world, it is still a grave health and social problem. More than a million persons died in 2016 as a result of HIV/AIDS. However, the number of persons affected by HIV-AIDS is increasing in some countries and in particular among migrants or Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW).
According to the AIDS Prevention and Control Commission of the Macao Special Administrative Region Government (2016 Annual Report, February 2017), between 1986 and 2016 a total of 254 Macau residents were reportedly HIV-infected; 99 AIDS cases, and 46 death cases. In 2016, 30 new HIV cases (Macau residents) were registered.
HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which is the virus that causes AIDS, or Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome. Therefore, HIV is the deadly virus to be totally avoided and, when contracted, to be treated and controlled. It is a deadly virus that has lead and continues leading many men and women of our time, to AIDS and death.
Generally, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is contracted through infected body fluid: seminal and vaginal; blood and breast milk. There may be mother to child transmission (vertical transmission).
HIV-AIDS is usually acquired through sexual contact. The majority of cases through male to male sexual activity groups or MSM (Males having Sex with other Males, both homosexual and bisexual).
Moreover, contributing social causes of HIV/AIDS are among others poverty, misery, exclusion, underemployment…
Controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and preventing its infection
It is imperative that the persons afflicted by HIV/AIDS be responsible, and not reckless or uncaring human beings. A needed strategy to control the spread of the deadly disease is mandatory testing or screening for those who are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Moreover, there is no ethical objections for voluntary screening.
There seems to be unanimous agreement regarding mandatory testing for donors of blood, semen, organs for transplant and pregnant women. In Macau, routine testing of high-risk population: street sex workers, STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) patients, non-residents workers in some establishments (saunas, karaoke bars and night clubs), tuberculosis patients, intravenous drug users, and prisoners.
Moreover, professionals and all others who are in direct contact with persons with HIV/AIDS, particularly physicians and nurses must, perhaps, submit themselves to corresponding testing and be reasonably and responsibly careful not to get infected with HIV.
There are continually improving helpful treatments for those affected by HIV. Those diagnosed and treated may have generally a good quality life. As of now, there is no cure for persons living with HIV.
Certainly, it is better to prevent than to cure. In the case of AIDS, prevention is the only fully effective weapon against the spread of the fatal disease.
The ABCD to prevent HIV: A stands for Abstinence from sex outside marriage; B, Be mutually faithful to spouse; C, Conscience and correct choices; D, Don’t use drugs; E, Education (Fr James McTavish, FMVD). Abstinence and marital fidelity is the only sure way to prevent the contamination of HIV-AIDS. How about condoms?
Condoms – widely advertised and distributed as a means to prevent the acquisition of HIV – are not, as scientifically and medically proven, fully safe. Furthermore, the use of condoms is ethically unacceptable for many, including the Catholic Church. The Church does not regard the use of condoms as “a real or moral solution” to the much larger issue of HIV/AIDS (Benedict XVI). The exceptional individual case of the use of condoms in the case of a male prostitute put forward by Pope Benedict XVI is well known: the use of condoms to avoid greater evils – “to reduce the risk of infection by another human being”- may be a first step (there is the principle of moral gradualness) towards growing ethical awareness and moral responsibility and humanization (cf. Benedict XVI, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, Light of the World, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010: 117-119, 145-149).
Prevention through healthy and responsible sex education
Prevention of HIV begins with correct information, which will avoid useless anxieties, and a false sense of security. Educating the people for the prevention and the spread of HIV begins with the provision of correct information about the virus. It continues with the right moral education. Integral education implies moral education, which includes sex education. There is an urgent need today of a correct sex education: “Today the dominant culture is trying to legitimize the separation between sex and love, love and fidelity, sexuality and procreation. This trivialization of sexuality is, in fact, the trivialization of the person, who is thus easily reduced to an object” (Eugenio Albuquerque).
Sexuality is an essential dimension of personhood, and the ethical dimension, too. The human person is a sexed and ethical human being, that is, free and responsible. Thus, authentic humane sex education goes beyond merely informative “safe sex.” Education is “a process towards ethical maturity,” to becoming autonomous and other-related human beings, to having true love at the center of our rational and affective life. According to Dr Gregorio Marañón, there are two commandments on sex: first, until marriage, continence and sexual differentiation; second, after marriage, responsible paternity and maternity.
The needed virtue of chastity
The bottom line question is: How to avoid catching HIV/AIDS? The answer of the North American bishops: practicing chastity and avoiding drug use; these are the only morally correct and medically sure ways to prevent the spread of AIDS (NCCB, The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response). Hence, the need of cultivating a virtuous and temperate life, and of acquiring and practicing the virtue of chastity.
As human persons, we all are sexed human beings, with affective and genital inclinations, which need to be ordered by right reason – and faith. This rational – and faith – ordering is achieved by chastity, the virtue or firm disposition in a person that controls with the light of reason and the strength of the will the sexual appetite, or “the desire for the pleasure of sex.” Chastity helps keep the boundaries of sexual activity and expression in the different states of life – single, married or consecrated to God. The virtue of chastity aids all other virtues to be temperate, particularly the most important human virtue, which is prudence: “No virtue is more necessary to prudence than temperance in its most sublime form, that is, chastity” (St Thomas Aquinas).
Although not much appreciated by many in our world, chastity is path of true love for ourselves, all neighbors – and God. The virtue of chastity is helped and vivified by love as charity, or God’s love in us. Chastity also needs the help of the virtue of prayerfulness. Love prays, and prayer is the cry of the humble and the pure of heart (cf. Mt 5:8).