Catholics and HIV in Africa, the unrelated convivence

Well, let’s go for a polemic premise. We know that the Pope nowadays is still against condoms because… well, if you want to know why just go check the Vatican website (link not enabled). Let’s leave it in a figure of authority telling people not to use condoms. And we know how irresponsible this is in a continent like Africa, where the spread of HIV is at its highest. So, why don’t we check how much of the responsibility of the spread of HIV can be laid upon the ones who are against the use of condoms? Is there any correlation between HIV prevalence in adults and Catholics?

First of all, the data used:

– Catholic Population as percentage for each country. This information was obtained from CIA World Factbook, and completed with information obtained from nationmaster.

– HIV Prevalence in adults. This is a measure of the percentage of adult population living with HIV. Of course, you can imagine that this information is an estimation. It is obtained from CIA World Factbook and completed with nationmaster as well.

It is important (very important) to notice that we do not have information about the HIV prevalence in adult per religious group. We only have it per country. This diffuses the results of the study and only a very strong trend would be detected.

Now, let’s take a look at our first map. The spread of Catholicism in Africa:

The first thing we notice here is the fact that there are not that many Catholics in Africa. This is bad to find trends. The distribution is as expected. The northern part is Muslim and the southern part is Christian Protestant. Catholics are mostly found in central Africa, but in most cases they represent less than 50% of the population. As mentioned, only very strong trends would be detected with this distribution of numbers.

Ok, and now let’s take a look at the distribution of adults with HIV in Africa

Well, what we can appreciate in this map is the strong spatial component associated to the spread of HIV. It seems to be focused only in the southern part of Africa, stepping down very strongly as soon as we move North.

Studying both maps it seems that there is no correlation between Catholicism and HIV in Africa. Hopefully, it seems that people is not listening a lot to what the church have to say about condoms. As we mentioned before, with the data we have, only very strong trends would be detected. With this data, we can only assume that proportional increases from country to country of Catholics and HIV prevalence could be related. But as we see, is not the case.

For example, in Angola, the increase (compared with the surrounding countries) of Catholics is followed by a considerable decrease of the rate of HIV prevalence. Ivory Coast is an example of the opposite, where an increase of the number of Catholics does match an increase of HIV prevalence.

Anyway, if we take a look at the correlating chart:

We can see that it does not seem to be any correlation whatsoever. It does seem that HIV has a very strong spatial component in its distribution, and it would be worthy to study what is this spatial component about (environmental, social…), but that is for somebody else to study.

Of course, not having the data of a distribution of HIV per religion, this trend cannot be assessed, but with this information, it seems that people in Africa are using (or not) condoms regardless of the opinion of the Pope. At least that is somehow comforting.


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