Condoms are not the answer to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, Pope Benedict said Tuesday while on his way to the continent for a seven-day visit.
"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," the Pope told reporters aboard his plane to Yaounde, Cameroon. "On the contrary, it increases the problem."
It's the first time the Pope has directly addressed the issue of condom use, which has been a divisive issue in the Roman Catholic Church.
While health workers — including some priests and nuns working with people with AIDS — advocate the use of condoms to curb the spread of disease during sex, the Catholic church promotes fidelity within marriage, chastity and abstinence.
More than 22 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to estimates from the United Nations. Since the 1980s, roughly 25 million people have died from AIDS.
Benedict's first papal trip to Africa will take him to Cameroon and Angola. Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic Church, though it competes with Islam and evangelical churches.
He will visit charitable groups and meet Muslim and Christian leaders during the visit.
The Pope also said Tuesday he intends to make an appeal for "international solidarity" for Africa in the face of the global economic downturn.
The church can provide "spiritual and moral" suggestions to help people get through the economic crisis, which the Pope blamed on a "deficit of ethics in economic structures."
"It is here that the church can make a contribution," he said.
Benedict also laughed off suggestions he has become increasingly isolated within the church, particularly after an outreach to ultra-conservatives that led to his lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop.
"The myth of my solitude makes me laugh," the Pope said, adding he has a network of friends he sees on a daily basis.