Condoms – colour counts

While the government distributed 160 million condoms last year and will hand out even more this year, it still has no plans to allow condom distribution in schools.

Health Department spokesperson Lulu Sebake says students are getting “life skills education”, but condoms “are not distributed in schools” and “learners can obtain condoms from their local clinic”.

However, AIDS educator David Patient ‘€“ who works for the company Condom Concepts — says his research shows that most young people don’€™t use condoms because they are not freely available.

“I have done AIDS education at over 400 schools in Gauteng over the past few years, and only five schools have let me distribute condoms,” says Patient. “I mean, get real. Most of these students are sexually active.”

Patient adds that young people often feel too embarrassed to get condoms from clinics and pharmacies.

“They don’€™t want some old person wagging a finger at them,” says Patient. “They want to get their condoms where they hang out; from the same place that they buy their clothes or their CDs.”

Patient also says condoms need to be fun if young people are going to use them. He says black youths don’€™t like the standard, milky-white condoms, but that black or purple condoms with fruity flavours excited them.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has also expressed reservations about the government’€™s condom distribution drive.

According to research conducted by the MRC’€™s Priscilla Reddy, “an average of 7,7 condoms per person per year are being distributed to those who are sexually active”.

“This suggests that condoms are not readily available to the South African population at large and that distribution mechanisms are inadequate”.

But perhaps more chilling than distribution problems is research which shows that, although most people know how HIV/AIDS is spread, they are not changing their sexual behaviour.

A health department survey found that while 96% of respondents knew they could get HIV/AIDS from unprotected sex with an infected person, only 8% had used a condom the last time they had sex.

However, Sebake says there is “nothing wrong” with government messages aimed at promoting condom use.

“The fact that there was a major increase in condom procurement [last year] shows that there is an increased demand for condoms,” said Sebake.

But an MRC study says that many people link condom use with “death, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, as well as a lack of trust and love”.

MRC interviews with 1 473 patients attending sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics, showed that only 37% had used a condom in the past six months.

This was despite the fact that over half had more than one partner during that time, and most had been infected with STDs in the past.

Ironically, the vast majority (81%) of those who had used condoms had done so with a regular partner.

The MRC concludes that condom programmes with “one message for everybody” and messages “that focus on medical facts and basic knowledge” will not persuade the majority of people to use condoms. ‘€“ Health-e news service.

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