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Bay-area HIV workers encouraged by Pope Benedict's condom comments

7:40 PM, Nov 26, 2010   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- With Tampa Bay having the 18th highest rate of HIV in the nation and Florida ranking second in AIDS cases, any change in policy regarding the spread of the disease is important.

This week the Roman Catholic church signaled a change that some call monumental.

"I think that's a huge shift. Definitely a huge shift for prevention," says Lorraine Langlois, who heads the Metro Wellness Communities Center in Tampa, which assists people living with HIV in the Bay area.

In an interview regarding the use of condoms -- long condemned by the church -- Pope Benedict XVI said using them specifically to prevent the spread of AIDS might be acceptable. The Pope had been asked a specific question about male prostitutes in Africa, knowingly spreading the disease by not using condoms.

"It's long overdue," says Langlois, "Because people are dying and the Church has a responsibility to step up and take care of its people."

The Pope made it clear the Catholic Church still opposes the use of condoms as a form of birth control.

At places served by the local diocese like Pinellas Hope, where they minister to people with HIV, they say it's still too early to know how the Vatican's words will affect their own condom policy.

Currently the Church won't hand out any condoms to clients, but Metro Wellness does, usually across the street from the shelter. It's done without consent, but also without opposition.

"The matter of fact is that there is something out there that's very dangerous," says Jim Nixon, who works for Metro Wellness.

Nixon is also a client. He's been HIV positive for 10 years, and two of his past partners have died from the disease.
  
"It's a matter of being protected. And it's a matter of not just the transmission of HIV but all the things that go with it," he says.

There are an estimated 10,000 people who are HIV positive in the Bay area.

Those who work to prevent the spread of the disease say unfortunately, the number of cases has been trending higher in the past year or so.

Eric Glasser, 10 News

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