Condoms: more than just a colorful, convenient story
17 April 2013
The Daily Sun recently reported on the South African Breweries’ (SAB) programme to deliver to local taverns not only their signature alcoholic products but also government-issue condoms – an effort to promote safe sex practices and address the spread of HIV.
The article does well to draw attention to an important HIV awareness and prevention effort at a deeper community level. However, the piece – with a headline of “One Beer One Condom!” – seemed more interested in the novelty of the idea than in reporting the facts and providing a more comprehensive picture of the significance of this initiative.
For example, the reasoning behind the programme – namely, the link between alcohol consumption and HIV transmission – was not clearly explained to readers. In fact, alcohol can be a significant risk factor in the spread of HIV, as it increases the likelihood of unsafe sex (i.e., forgetting to use a condom). Indeed, South Africa is home one of the highest rates of per capita alcohol consumption.
Furthermore, the article makes no mention of the challenges surrounding condom promotion.
There is considerable controversy over free, government-issue ‘Choice’ condoms, which are the type most commonly distributed in public health efforts. The fact that the condoms are free carries with it a socioeconomic stigma that many users want to avoid.
The government-issue glove has also become infamous for being the ‘no-choice’ condom, revealing public frustration over the lack of different sizes, flavours and colours, the availability of which experts say could actually increase condom use.
More alarming are reports which have focused on the poor quality of the ‘Choice’ condom, reporting that people have found that they are too small and/or are prone to leakage and bursting – a perception that is supported by recalls.
Condom promotion is certainly an essential programme in the fight against HIV – but it cannot be viewed as a panacea or a simple success story. Like all public health issues and initiatives, the full picture is more complicated than it might seem – and the media would do well to share these nuances with their readers.
--Melody Hu is an intern at the Anova Health Institute.
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