Vice Squad
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
 
Taking Opposition to Harm Reduction to an Extreme


Harm reduction policies look to minimize the cost of vicious behavior, as
opposed to limiting the amount of vice itself. (The goals are frequently
incompatible, in that efforts to reduce the incidence of vice often result
in more harm per incident.) Prototypical harm reduction policies aimed
at heroin addicts are methadone maintenance and free needle
exchange. In some sense, these policies "subsidize" heroin addiction,
while attempting to ameliorate harms. The onset of the AIDS pandemic
greatly strengthened the case for needle exchange, as AIDS represented
a huge new harm that could be substantially reduced through such
exchanges.

AIDS also greatly strengthened the case for some forms of harm
reduction with respect to sexual "vices." In particular, increasing the
availability of condoms and information about their use became more
attractive policies when AIDS raised the stakes for unprotected sex.

Friend of Vice Squad Beth Plocharczyk sends along this report that a
UN-sponsored AIDS awareness campaign
(that includes information
on condoms, apparently) in Somalia is meeting with some resistance
from Islamic leaders: "The umbrella Somali Ulema Council has said it
will use Sharia (Islamic) Law, including flogging, to punish those selling
or using condoms." This Council is asking those who don't share or heed
its views about sexual relations to pay a high price -- not just the
potential flogging, but the death sentence meted out to those who do
not use a condom and subsequently contract AIDS. This would be bad
enough if they actually understood the risks, but it is even worse given
the actual state of knowledge about AIDS in Somalia: "Due to the
fighting, there has been little research into the prevalence of Aids in
Somalia but the UN Aids agency says some 70% of young Somali girls
have not heard about the disease."

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