Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, has expressed “disappointment” over the way sections of the media have distorted his statements in an interview to New York Times on June 24. “Through misleading headlines an impression is sought to be created that I have misgivings about the efficacy of condoms or that I have a moral problem with condoms. This is apart from the fact because for the past two decades I have been stressing the need for safe sex using a combination of condoms and discipline which is in line with the Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom (ABC) line of UNAIDS which has yielded great success in Uganda and now forms part of the anti-AIDS campaigns of several countries,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
Apart from stressing the need for safe sex, the Minister pointed out that he has also laid the foundations of a robust voluntary blood donation system throughout the country which would ensure safety as well as access to quality blood, thereby preventing transmission of the HIV virus through contaminated blood transfusions. On June 14, which is observed as World Blood Donors Day, the Minister personally donated blood at New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and gave all citizens a call to donate blood throughout the year so that the annual deficit of 2-3 million units could be bridged.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, who is presently in the United States on an official visit, said, “Any experienced NGO activist knows that condoms sometimes break while being used. That is why government campaigns in India, whether through the National Aids Control Organisation or the state governments, should focus on safe sex as a holistic concept which includes highlighting the role of fidelity to single partners.” He was critical of reports that sought to draw a connection between his statement and the criminalisation of same sex in India. This matter is beyond the domain of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, he stated. The Minister said that the tradition of preserving the institution of marriage governs relevant government legislations. Even the law on porce insists on attempts at reconciliation and suggest recourse to separation only in the last resort, he said. The culture of regarding husband and wife as halves of a whole should be upheld in the modern age where one sees all-round crumbling of values, Dr Vardhan added.
“My statement on informing people on the supremacy of fidelity as an AIDS prevention measure is not only a piece of cultural advice but also a scientific one. So as Minister of Health I find it justified to include this simple message in the communication strategy of the government’s anti-AIDS programmes,” Dr Harsh Vardhan said. He rounded up saying, “Condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one’s partner. Prevention is always better than cure.”