Throughout the International AIDS Conference, I've repeatedly heard about how the U.S. government is the largest buyer of condoms. Yet, at the same time, youth and people from PEPFAR countries kept telling me that, back home, access to condoms is a major issue. So where exactly are the condoms? Well, after a week at the conference in Toronto, I've decided that all the condoms are clearly right here. Over the week, I've amassed a sizable collection of at least 75 different types of condoms in all different colors and packaging. My favorites have been the goodies from UNFPA and MTV. UNFPA packaged a male and female condom together in brightly colored pouches usually used to carry jewelry. The MTV Staying Alive initiative packaged them in pocket containers, like the kind that carry mints, and gave them out at last night's premier party of their 48fest films – their project where young people were given cameras to develop films about AIDS in 48 hours.
So what seems to be the issue? If hundreds of thousand of condoms can get to Toronto, why aren't they getting to young people in PEPFAR countries? Is the U.S. government so stuck on the myth that condoms will actually cause young people to have sex? That's right; one look at that sexy foil wrapper and caution gets thrown to the winds. Never mind all the research showing that condom availability programs do not increase sexual activity, condoms cause sex. Just like umbrellas cause rain.
Seriously, while it may sound like the U.S. is buying condoms for the world, it's really just a drop in the bucket to the overall need. In 2004, donor governments provided just under 4 male condoms per man per year to the developing world. Four male condoms a year, per man? Sounds incredible, doesn't it?
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What's worse, the U.S. approach of segmenting condom programs only for sex workers or other "high risk" populations demonizes condom use for youth. So the amount of condoms the US provides becomes useless if people don't believe they work. In a session yesterday titled "ABC in Africa- What's the Evidence?" Barbara Ann Kenyon reported on her assessment of the situation in Nelspruit, South Africa based on her work with adolescent boys. Her presentation, "ABC- Africans non-solutions," gave startling information about how young men viewed condoms. They believed that, "Condoms are deadly devises that carry the disease." Lubricant is seen as "HIV worms" when filled with warm water. Most telling though is the view that condoms are for prostitutes and that if one asks for a condom, they will be seen as a prostitute. This further emphasizes the need to repeal the abstinence-until-marriage earmark from PEPFAR.
One thing I have noticed, though, is that the fake Latin thing is getting taken a little far with Trojan's slogan: "Condom Thinimus, Protection Maximus." So I've come up with some suggestions:
"Condom Educatus Smartust Est." No brainus!
"Abstinence in Theorum, Conceptus in Practicus."
Or maybe a new slogan for the Bush Administration: "Ideologicus triumphus Scientatus."