Roman Catholic leaders in New York City on Thursday released a joint statement criticizing the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's efforts to deliver about 26 million condoms to organizations and venues in the city to help curb the spread of HIV, the New York Post reports (Campanile, New York Post, 2/16).
The health department last month approved a $1.57 million contract to deliver Ansell Healthcare's Lifestyle condoms and packets of lubricants to help curb the spread of HIV. The health department will pay Ansell four cents per condom, putting the cost of the program at about $720,000 annually, according to health officials. City health officials on Wednesday unveiled the official condom, which a subway theme with different colors for various train lines. Officials plan to track the progress of the program through an annual community health survey, which polls 10,000 city residents by telephone. New York City currently distributes about 1.5 million condoms monthly, or about 18 million annually, at no cost to organizations, health clinics, advocacy groups, bars, restaurants, nail salons, nightclubs and prisons. Organizations or venues can request an unlimited supply of condoms at no cost through an online ordering system set up by the city health department (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/14).
In the joint statement, Cardinal Edward Egan -- head of the Archdiocese of New York -- and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn criticized the distribution program, calling it an immoral "anything goes" policy that degrades society, the Post reports (New York Post, 2/16). Condom distribution is "tragic and misguided," they said, adding that the only way to protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is through abstinence before marriage and fidelity among married couples. According to Egan and DiMarzio, "Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms." They added, "By their actions, they ignore that truth and degrade societal standards" (Kugler, AP/Los Angeles Times, 2/15). Stu Loeser, spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R), said, "We believe we're saving lives and it's important to do that." City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said the distribution program will increase safe sex practices and reduce HIV transmission and unplanned pregnancies. "It will save lives and actually save money," he added (New York Post, 2/16). Bloomberg on Friday in his weekly radio address said that although he believes young people should wait until they are adults before having sex, the health department has to "work with the real world of people not practicing protected sex, not practicing abstinence." He added that condom distribution is a "way to keep people alive" (Saul, New York Daily News, 2/17).