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Condoms Count: Meeting the Need in the Era of HIV/AIDS

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Condoms Count: Meeting the Need in the Era of HIV/AIDS

PAI reports on how donors — including U.S. — “fall short.”

“We have a simple message for everyone involved in the battle against AIDS. Money matters, political commitment counts and condoms save lives. And it’s time to act, now.”

-Amy Coen, PA

October 2002 - At a time when at least 8 billion condoms are needed annually for protection against HIV/AIDS in developing countries and Eastern Europe, the United States is falling behind on policy and funding, says a new report from Population Action International (PAI).

The PAI report, Condoms Count: Meeting the Need in the Era of HIV/AIDS, documents the failure of the donor community — and many of the countries most affected by AIDS — to adequately support programs that promote and distribute male and female condoms. Condoms Count is part of PAI’s ongoing initiative to bolster investment in reproductive health supplies.

“In 1990, the international community provided nearly 970 million condoms,” says Amy Coen, President of PAI. “After a decade of erratic and inconsistent support, donors provided just 950 million condoms in 2000, while the U.S. contribution had dropped by roughly half. This doesn’t come close to meeting the need and is morally reprehensible at a time when roughly 14,000 people become infected with HIV every day.”

Condoms, used correctly and consistently, are an inexpensive way to protect against AIDS, according to PAI. At the international market price of US$0.03 (3 cents) per male condom, it would cost US$240 million to supply the minimum 8 billion condoms needed, while the costs of promotion and distribution would bring the total to at least $1.2 billion. These figures will more than double by 2015, when an estimated 18.6 billion condoms will be needed for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

“We are talking about a human investment and a moral imperative: every three-cent condom could save a life,” says Ms. Coen. “Right now, governments are coming up short on cash, commitment, and condoms.”

Condoms Count calls upon all nations, and especially donor nations and institutions, to act quickly to mount comprehensive prevention efforts that support promotion and distribution of male and female condoms. But this will not happen, says PAI, without strong political commitment at the highest levels of government and society — including in the United States, where too many politicians are reluctant to explicitly recognize the importance of condoms in HIV/AIDS prevention.

“Right now, a Senate bill aimed at funding global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts mentions condoms only twice,” says Terri Bartlett, Vice President for Public Policy at PAI and a participant in the conference. “This past July, at the International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson’s speech went unheard, but the text he prepared avoided using the word ‘condom’ altogether. If we won’t talk about a key part of the solution, how can we hope to solve the problem?”

“Condoms, not euphemisms, can protect people from AIDS,” adds Ms. Coen. “If condoms aren’t explicitly mentioned in legislation, they cannot be explicitly funded. And if they’re not funded, they won’t get to those who need them most. It’s time for our leaders to pull their heads out from the sand and speak out on this issue, before it’s too late.”

The PAI report recognizes that condoms are just one element in the continuum of care, which includes prevention, treatment and care. While condoms are necessary for the success of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, the report also makes clear that they are by no means sufficient.

“To be effective, HIV/AIDS prevention programs must be tailored to the needs of specific groups of people and include promotion of all the ‘ABCs’ of prevention,” says Ms. Bartlett. “They are Abstinence, Being faithful to one’s partner, and Condom use by the sexually active at risk of infection.”

The spread of HIV/AIDS among young people poses a special challenge, according to the PAI report. Fully one-third of people living with HIV/AIDS are aged 15-24, and almost half of all new HIV infections are to those under age 25. Again, PAI emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive approach that responds to the needs of the individuals concerned.

Among the recommendations in the PAI report are the following:

Male and female condoms should be available to everyone who needs them, when and wherever they want them.

More money, effectively used, is key to making AIDS prevention programs — including condom promotion and distribution — work.

Unwavering commitment to preventing HIV, at the highest levels of government and society, is critical to winning the war against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

“We have a simple message for everyone involved in the battle against AIDS,” says Ms. Coen. “Money matters, political commitment counts and condoms save lives. And it’s time to act, now.”

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