The Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) has long been suspected of being involved in the distribution and promotion of condoms. In this comprehensive report, the Lepanto Institute confirms these suspicions by reviewing the philosophy of its leadership, its own documents, and government reports. What is clear is that CMMB is not only philosophically in favor of the promotion of condoms, but is actively involved in the distribution of them as well.
The former president of the Catholic Medical Mission Board is John Galbraith. Galbraith became the president and CEO of CMMB in the year 2000, and served in that capacity until 2012. In 2006, while Galbraith was serving as the CEO and President of CMMB, Galbraith gave an interview to the Georgetown Voice wherein he clearly stated that CMMB’s work includes the promotion of condoms. From the interview:
GV: Georgetown’s director for Reproductive Health, Victoria Jennings, said that members of the Catholic Church ”’preach’ about pre-marital abstinence and marital fidelity” and deems this the “social control” approach. How is the CMMB included in this dialogue?
JG: With the help of our partners, we run hospitals and clinics. We don’t give sermons in parishes. Sometimes we work in the community, for prevention messages. Certainly when we do that, the message is, the only 100% proven way to prevent getting HIV/AIDS is to avoid sexual contact except in marriage with a single partner. Having said that, when a person comes in and is sick, we’re not preaching to that person. The way you fight HIV/AIDS is ABC: abstinence, be faithful, and if that doesn’t work, use condoms.
Bruce Wilkinson was hired as the current president and CEO of CMMB in 2012. From 2005-2009, Wilkinson was the Chief of Party for a World Vision/USAID program called RAPIDS. During that time, Wilkinson gave an interview “The Other Journal” wherein he claimed that women in African need to use condoms. From the interview:
TOJ: When you talked about simplistic messages, are some of those around the condom issues…
BW: Yeah it is, there is too much insistence on talking about condoms, and it is such a social hot point here in North America. Let me tell you what, there are women in Africa who need to be protected by a condom in Africa because they don’t know where their husband has been. And are you going to tell me that condoms are not to be used? That’s absolutely nonsense!
If people are HIV positive themselves, you can re-transmit the disease quite easily; they need to be protected during sex. There are so many ways that condoms can be appropriately used not violating the premises of scripture. And then to make general statements about the effectiveness of condoms, it just isn’t helpful. Not to say that there isn’t some substance in their message, but why are they using this issue as a keystone? It’s not the big issue.
The big issue is what do people believe and think about HIV/AIDS and taking their own individual responsibility for stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. That is where the Christian message actually resonates. Condoms is a sidebar, yeah there is some validity to some of the messaging being put out there, because condoms are 100% safe, that’s for sure and condoms in every context could encourage earlier sexual activity, but the key here is that condoms are minor issue of what the overall Christian message should be. And Christians keep majoring on the minor.
Distribution of Condoms
According to CMMB’s FAQ page on its old website, CMMB claims not to distribute condoms, but provides “partners complete and accurate information about condoms as part of [its] prevention efforts.”
Despite what it claims in the FAQ, at least one former employee claims the contrary. An online corporate review organization called GlassDoor has an anonymous review from 2015 by former employee of CMMB. The reviewer proclaims, “So glad they distribute condoms!” The reviewer also claims CMMB is considering the distribution of injectable contraceptive Norplant and that the president of CMMB even said he thought that CMMB should offer abortions. Interestingly, the reviewer laments that CMMB is not being honest with its donors and board of directors about what they do to “support women’s reproductive independence.”
While there is nothing in the public record to indicate that the president of CMMB, Bruce Wilkinson, believes that CMMB should offer abortions, there is plenty of evidence that CMMB is actively distributing condoms.
Catholic Medical Mission Board Kenya’s facebook page promoted the use of condoms as a means of preventing HIV/AIDS.
CMMB received a grant from the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the CDC for a project in South Sudan called ANISA. The program ran from 2010-2014. The grant description, found on the PEPFAR Country/Regional Operational Plans (COPs/ROPs) Database website, makes it very clear that the distribution of condoms was included in the program.
Under the overview portion, it is very clear that through CMMB’s ANISA program, “peer educators will be used to provide prevention messages and support for condom outlets will continue.”
Under the heading “Funding for Prevention: HIV Testing and Counseling,” each site is expected to have counselors trained in promoting “consistent and correct use of condoms.”
Under the heading, “Funding for Sexual Prevention: Abstinence/Be Faithful,” it says, “Youth will also receive appropriate and accurate information on consistent and correct condom use.”
The narrative for 2011 was very similar, but in 2012, the narrative changed to include the distribution of condoms as well. What’s particularly interesting is that CMMB’s sub-partner that is distributing the condoms is Bruce Wilkinson’s former employer, World Vision.
Under the heading “Funding for Sexual Prevention,” it is very clear that CMMB’s ANISA Project was responsible for the distribution of condoms, saying:
ANISA adopted and designed condom promotion leaflets with pictures showing correct use of condoms and benefits. Condoms are regularly distributed to outlets in lodges, bars, saloons and trailer parks in Yambio, Nzara, Ezo and Ibba. Through their network peer educators have identified individual condom distributors who are regularly supplied with condoms. By the end of year two of ANISA, 14 condom distributors were known, 6 of whom were women. Use of condoms in WES, which is assessed by the rate and number of replacements at the condom access points, has substantially increased. The current average condom consumption has increased to 45,000 a month for male condoms and 5000 a month for female condoms.
The narrative explaining the distribution of condoms was carried through for the rest of the project.
In 2011, USAID produced a report titled, “Formative Assessment of Most-At-Risk Populations in South Sudan.” On page 24, USAID clearly stated CMMB’s role in the distribution of condoms in South Sudan:
Yambio was an exception in that five out of seven SWs [sex workers] interviewed said that antiretroviral treatment (ART) and testing could be obtained at Yambio hospital and that free condoms were available at the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) clinic.
CMMB Documentation promoting contraception
Even in its own documentation, CMMB promotes the use of contraception and condoms. In April 2015, CMMB produced a document titled, “BASELINE SURVEY AND NEEDS ASSESSMENT FOR CHILDREN AND MOTHERS PARTNERSHIPS (CHAMPS) PROJECT IN NZARA COUNTY, WESTERN EQUATORIA STATE-SOUTH SUDAN.” Throughout the document, CMMB makes recommendations for indoctrination and distribution of all forms of modern contraceptives. What follows are a series of quotes found on various pages of the document indicating support for contraception.
On page 61, CMMB talks about the “importance” of contraception, claiming that access to it is critical for “protection from unwanted pregnancy and the achievement of women’s reproductive health desires.”
On page 65, CMMB spotlighted a quote from a female community worker demanding contraception, in an effort to emphasize the “need” for contraception in that region.
On page 68, CMMB complains:
Generally, a key challenge in delivering family planning with modern contraceptive options to all communities throughout Nzara County is the lack of competent staff. Although there was some training by UNFPA in implants, for example, lack of supplies resulted in unpracticed skills.
The same page called for “protocols that staff use to assist women while ensuring their safety and security after the emergency contraceptive is taken.”
On page 69, CMMB began a list of barriers to “accessing and using family planning.” Included in the list are the following:
- Although there is an increasing number of men who want to use family planning due to economic hardship and changing attitudes, many women throughout Nzara County report that there is status attached to having many children, which causes men to refuse family planning use.
- Further, many men believe that his wife’s fertility is under his control, some stating, “I paid a dowry for my wife; it is her duty to give me children.” In some cases the mother-in-law also resists use of family planning for the same reason. As a result, family planning is not discussed openly in some communities.
- Women report fear that if they do not produce children for their husband that he will take on another sexual partner or will beat her.
- Community members report that their religious beliefs prevent them from using family planning and that it is God’s will to produce many children. One woman stated about resistance to family planning, “We rely on the bible to guide us—it tells us children are a gift from God so we should keep producing.”
- Community members report that it is rare for men to accompany women to clinics to receive family planning information and contraceptives. Women report that they are counseled at health facilities to discuss family planning options with their husbands and decide together; however, women in some areas report that discussing family planning with their husbands remains taboo—she fears that he will beat her if she discusses it with him, or may accuse her of wanting family planning because she is sleeping with another man.
- There is still misunderstanding among many people, and men in particular, that using contraceptives will cause a woman to be barren permanently, and so there is resistance.
- Poor health facility staff training on modern contraceptives, including how to prescribe it, educate patients on its use, and provide safe and non-judgmental care to all persons, including adolescent girls. Sometimes contraceptives are distributed, but no information is given on how to use it properly. Some women use it incorrectly, particularly with pills. As a direct consequence of the lack of available contraceptives combined with very low bargaining power of young girls and women, the community reports frequent cases of girls (primarily in the ages of 12-20) who are seeking abortions, typically by purchasing drugs from a pharmacy in Nzara. There are reported cases of death following attempted at-home abortions using different combinations of drugs; women in Sangua Payam reported that there was recently a 15 year old girl who died after taking drugs for an abortion when she was two months pregnant.
On page 196, CMMB makes the following recommendation:
- All PHCCs and PHCUs with trained staff could be provided with basic supplies required to safely deliver babies and provide care for mothers, children, and newborns. This includes regular stocking of basic supplies such as ORS, diagnostic test and treatment for typhoid, 200: Adolescent girls and boys, and single/ married women/ men, including new parents, are educated about modern FP methods and health benefits/ economic benefits of child spacing, and myths in the community, drugs such as oxytocin, vaccines, malaria tests and treatments, and various family planning methods/ contraceptives.
Given the evidence, it is very clear that Catholic Medical Mission Board is ideologically wedded to the promotion and distribution of condoms. Its current and former CEOs were very clear in their support and advocacy of condoms. Government grants to CMMB for a project in South Sudan included the promotion and distribution of condoms. And at least one CMMB-produced document made recommendations for increased access to and use of contraception.