In September 2013, South African and international media reported that senior citizens were rubbing condoms on sore knees and joints after mistakenly believing that the lubricant would relieve arthritis pain.
Despite warnings from the National Department of Health that the belief had no truth to it, the practice made headlines in 2014 again when Northern Cape community health workers reported their patients were still buying into the hype.
But Limpopo villagers in Matavhela village about 40 kms north of Thohoyandou continue to claim that water-based condom lubricant has become a cure-all for sore joints despite a lack of scientific evidence. On the heels of alleged problems with the national condom tender announced last week, HIV activists say this dangerous myth could further strain short supplies.
“We use the oil from the condoms to rub the swollen places where we have pain,” 67-year-old Mmbengeni Ndou told OurHealth. “It works like a bomb, even the medications from the clinic can’t compete with condoms.”
Football-playing gogo Maria Mbedzi said she uses condoms to cure aches and pains following matches.
“When I first heard of it, I was so disgusted and I never wanted to even touch a condom,” she said. “Then I tried it and it worked, so I started using them.”
According to fellow user Thanyani Maluga, pensioners are saving the government money.
“It is a good thing that we are using these condoms because it was just a waste when young people go and take them and never use them but throw them around,” said Maluga, who added that he sends his grandson to the clinic to get more when he runs out. “In a way, we are saving the government money by using the condoms as medication.”
Myths could strain short supply[quote float= right]There is limited access to condoms as it is and that it is worrying to hear that people are essentially wasting condoms in this way”
But AIDS lobby group the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has said that pensioners who believe the myth are costing the government money and putting people’s health at risk.
According to TAC’s Head of Policy Marcus Low, there “no evidence that condom lubricant is effective for treating arthritis or any other joint condition”.
Low told OurHealth that TAC was concerned about ongoing reports of condom misuse.
“There is limited access to condoms as it is and that it is worrying to hear that people are essentially wasting condoms in this way,” he said.
South Africa has problems with its national supply of condoms this year, announced Democratic Alliance Shadow MEC for Health in Gauteng Jack Bloom last week.
According to Bloom, condom distribution in Gauteng has fallen about nine million condoms short of the province’s goal due to national supply problems.
He added that the province failed to meet last year’s condom distribution goal by about 60 million condoms.
In a statement, Bloom said that Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu blamed the shortage on problems with the national condom tender, and said she was looking at proposals to get good quality condoms from other companies.
An edited version of this story was published on Health24.com