I remember reading this article, ‘KENYA: Condom recycling highlights gaps in HIV prevention programming‘, a few years ago and thinking it very unlikely to be of great significance. In a country where not that many people use condoms, how many could be reusing condoms? Apparently condom use is higher in urban areas, but so is the supply of condoms; HIV prevalence is also higher. But in rural and isolated areas, where all health services and commodities are in short supply, HIV prevalence tends to be a lot lower.
More recently I read this article, ‘Reuse of condoms in Makete [Tanzania] stymie fight against HIV‘. That struck me as being even less likely. You don’t need an awareness of HIV to find the idea of reusing a condom that has been used by someone else already, perhaps several people, disgusting. How many people could possibly be persuaded to ‘rent’ a used condom? And if there are people who can sell snow in the Antarctic, as the saying goes, why are they not being recruited by USAID and their partners to sell or distribute fresh, new condoms, given that these parties have been struggling to do so for years without having much impact?
The first article is from the UN’s IRIN, which can be notoriously unreliable. It includes a photo of a man washing a condom in a basin of turbid water. Apparently he also hangs them out to dry. Quite surprising in a predominantly Muslim area, where even people who use condoms would be unlikely to draw attention to it. The man in the photo is reported to be HIV positive and wishing to protect his wife.
The second article appears in several Tanzanian sources and relates the story of a disappointed trader who hires out condoms by the night and fines people who keep them for any longer. I wonder how much he charges for the inevitable tear. We are told that this man’s disappointment stems from the fact that he has to trade further and further from the town now that the word is getting around that condoms shouldn’t be reused. But if he is as good as the article says, he should be able to make a killing selling new condoms for a nominal price, even the same price as he is said to charge for renting them.
With both of these stories I can’t help feeling they are, at best, non-stories, maybe a result of journalists trying to build something up out of an isolated incident; perhaps even journalists who have been duped into believing stories that they hoped so very much to find that people felt sorry for them and made the whole thing up. I often wonder how many ‘stories’ have their origin in some piece of rubbish penned by a thoughtless journalist, but that everyone reads and then confirms later, as if they knew it all first hand, life imitating art, so to speak. I’m not sayint that such things never happen, just that they are not really as momentous as they are made out to be.