File pic: Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has landed into a controversy after being quoted as saying that the stress on condom use in AIDS awareness campaigns sends a wrong message and "being faithful" in one's marriage is a better way of preventing the major disease. Today, he said his comments had been distorted.
"Condoms promise safe sex, but the safest sex is through faithfulness to one's partner," he said in a clarification that raised more eyebrows.
The New York Times quoted Harsh Vardhan as saying that focusing on the use of condoms in AIDS campaigns sends the wrong message that "you can have any kind of illicit sexual relationship, but as long as you're using a condom, it's fine."
The minister, who is an ENT specialist, reportedly said he would like to see that change, with more emphasis on "promoting the integrity of the sexual relationship between husband and wife, which is a part of our culture." (Read the New York Times article here)
The comment has been derided on social media as a "promote morals, not condoms" message at a time India, home to the third largest population of HIV-infected people, assesses that most of these cases are due to unprotected sex.
Dr Harsh Vardhan defended his views, saying, "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."
He continued, "Any experienced NGO activist knows that condoms sometimes break while being used. That is why government campaigns in India should focus on safe sex as a holistic concept which includes highlighting the role of fidelity to single partners."
Harsh Vardhan, who was the BJP's candidate for Chief Minister in the recent Delhi election, also justified his comments promoting fidelity as the best prevention as "not just cultural but scientific" advice.
"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," he said.