Kampala — WHILE launching the Alliance for Community Action of HIV/AIDS in Masaka recently, the Mayors, councillors and politicians from various towns in Uganda suggested ways of curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Among the suggestions is to put condoms in private toilets so that people can access them.
The idea is good but may possibly need further discussion. I believe in the Abstinence, Be Faithfulness and Condoms (ABC) strategy. Putting condoms in all public places may compromise the other two modes of prevention.
Moreover, putting condoms in public toilets/places may not improve access to them. Someone who lacks the courage to ask for a condom from a health provider where they are free or a shop will most probably also fail to introduce and utilise it with a partner. Stories are told of people who buy and carry condoms but fail to use them when the time comes. This is very common among youths who lack skills for negotiating with their partners. This makes abstinence a better option compared to condom use.
Many organisations put condoms in toilets mainly to target their staff. Incidentally, most staff members can afford to buy condoms. If the condoms are in a public toilet, they may not reach the target because someone who cannot afford a packet of condoms is most likely unable to pay the fee to use a public toilet - given that there are no free public toilets in Uganda. The only public places where condoms may be provided free are bars but still people who go to bars have the means to buy condoms.
The latest statistics show that HIV infection rates are highest among adults and married people - the people that can actually afford to purchase condoms or have access tot hem in one way or another. This shows that the explanation for HIV infection lies beyond accessibility to condoms.
Having access to condoms is one thing and using them is another. Some of the issues to address in the war against HIV are people's attitude and the myths that many people associate HIV with. These can addressed through awareness and sensitisation programmes.
The writer is a senior trainer with the AIDS Information Centre