It’s just a little bit of wording on a condom packet – so small that Justin Kleinman hadn’t noticed it until he squinted to read it recently.
It’s just a little bit of wording on a condom packet – so small that Justin Kleinman hadn’t noticed it until he squinted to read it recently. “This is completely pointless,” the 24-year-old Chicagoan said of the warning telling him that, while condoms can help prevent the spread of some sexually transmitted diseases, there are no guarantees. Even so, that tiny bit of print is at the center of a raging debate now that President Bush wants the Food and Drug Administration to modify the warning to include information about human papillomavirus, commonly called HPV or genital warts. On one side are scientists who believe that condoms should be promoted as a crucial line of defense against several STDs and cervical cancer. On the other are groups that advocate waiting for sex until marriage, with HPV as an argument for their cause. “The lack of information getting to the American public regarding this disease is beyond comprehension,” said Linda Klepacki, manager of the abstinence policy department at Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based organization. She and others point to research showing that condoms don’t necessarily prevent the spread of HPV, in part because it can be found on parts of the body condoms don’t cover. Abstinence can prevent the disease, she argues. But scientists who study HPV worry that abstinence groups are dismissing important information to promote their values. “I want to be polite. But it appalls me when I see scientific and medical studies being manipulated for a different agenda,” said Tom Broker. He’s a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and president of the International Papillomavirus Society, a coalition that studies HPV. The focus, Broker said, should be on the fact that condoms have been shown to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV and which can be detected and treated if women get regular Pap tests. (The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recent report to Congress that included the same conclusion.) Broker also said research has shown that HPV transmission is less likely when a person does not have other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, gonorrhea or chlamydia, which condoms have been shown to combat. Both he and Dr. Ward Cates, former head of the CDC’s STD/HIV prevention group, agree that abstinence is a key to preventing the spread of disease. But when someone becomes sexually active, they believe that “condoms are the best imperfect way we have,” said Cates, now president of the Family Health Institute of Family Health International, a nonprofit global health organization. Officials at the FDA concede that boiling down a “very extensive and complicated” body of scientific literature on HPV into a few words on a condom label is no easy task. “It must be medically accurate and, at the same time, be clear and understandable,” said Dr. Dan Schultz, director of the FDA’s Office of Device Evaluation. He expects to issue recommendations on an HPV warning by the end of the year. (Source: Baltimore Times, April 2004)