“We want to change people’s attitudes to the use of condoms,” Anita Asiimwe, head of Rwanda’s National AIDS Control Commission, CNLS, told IRIN/PlusNews. “We want to reduce infections among the youth by at least 50 percent – both men and women should act responsibly about their lives.”

The three-month campaign, launched in December 2009, will pay special attention to high-risk groups such as sex workers and discordant couples.

According to the government, some of the biggest challenges to condom use have been the fact that they are still associated with promiscuity, making their use difficult to negotiate within stable relationships, as well as uneven distribution, with people living in rural areas finding it harder to access them.

Research by social marketing group, Population Services International, found that breakage was a complaint by more than half of Rwandan condom users, highlighting the need for more education on their correct use.

Female condoms are now being distributed free of charge, while male condoms are being offered at the subsidized price of 100 Rwandan Francs, or US$0.17, per packet of three, significantly lower than the cost of a loaf of bread, which ranges between 500 and 1000 Francs.

“We are training women to understand and embrace the use of female condoms,” said Aisha Rutaro, a member of the local NGO, Rwandan Women Living with HIV.

Rutaro noted, however, that cultural beliefs – especially those emphasizing women’s submissiveness – were a major hindrance to the use of female condoms, which are far less popular than the male condom. In 2006, the Ministry of Health distributed 833,863 male condoms, compared with just 2,441 female condoms.

Rwanda’s HIV prevalence is about 3 percent; condoms are central to its national prevention strategy, which is based on education, abstinence, faithfulness to one sexual partner and correct and consistent condom use.

This feature is used with permission from IRIN/PlusNews  –  www.plusnews.org