31 January 2013

Zambia: Fake Condoms Influx Derail HIV/Aids Fight

FAKE condoms! Yes fake condoms. Who could have thought?

Well, that is how sophisticated things have become.

Nothing is short of pirating these days. Even human embryos are being cloned these days. Call it science without humanity.

Now, it has just emerged that two in every one hundred condoms on the Zambian market are questionable, putting the lives of users at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

Condoms are believed to be the most widely used "gear" for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

Now, counterfeit brands have penetrated the local market.

Call it business without morality. Yes, some business people are so drunk with the love for money at the expense of human life. It does not matter what they sell, as long as it brings money into their pockets, it is okay.

As for the fake condoms, people have reasons enough to worry. There is no documented data of how many people have used them, but the truth is most of these products have actually been used. They were only discovered to be on the market a few weeks ago, and some of them were confiscated in Lusaka and the Copperbelt.

Those who care about their sexuality or reproductive health should be concerned.

Reasons: these products are not tested and certified by the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS).

According to CYCORP, a firm that specialises in issues of intellectual property, some condoms sold in Zambia are fake.

Managing director Kingsley Nkonde, whose organisation confiscated fake condoms in Kamwala area of Lusaka and Copperbelt some weeks ago, is concerned with the influx of pirated products on the market.

"This is really sad and the saddest part is that the most popular brands in Zambia are the most counterfeited ones," he said.

The intellectual property expert gave some tips of fake condoms.

Mostly these flavoured or scented condoms are counterfeit and that means there is no guarantee that they would work efficiently. Flavours like banana are mostly pirated condoms.

There is no doubt that the influx of fake condom brands on the Zambian market might derail the country's HIV and AIDS response according to health experts.

Swebby Macha, a reproductive specialist and gynaecologist at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka,says revelations of counterfeit condoms in Zambia should be a source of worry.

"Our main concern as gynaecologists is the risk they can pose to the users since they are not certified," said Dr Macha.

Counterfeit condoms pose a serious health risk to the general population, as they easily break and therefore will not offer the desired protection against pregnancy, Hiv/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

According to the reproductive health specialist these condoms do not meet the acceptable safety standards and will not be effective in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, STIs and unwanted pregnancies.

In a country like Zambia with an HIV prevalence of 14 per cent in the adult population, this would seriously compromise the fight against HIV/AID's.

Regarding reproductive health, the increase in unwanted pregnancies as a result of faulty condoms would lead to unsafe abortions and high maternal HIV infections.

It is important for regulatory bodies such as the Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authority (PRA) and ZABS to tighten their inspectorate role on condoms coming into the country to ensure Quality control. Members of the public on the other hand should be vigilant and buy condoms from established outlets.

This is not to say certified condoms are 100 per cent safe. Consistent and correct use of condoms can reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of STI transmission.

However, the most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STIs, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

But the issue of abstinence is a word that has lost meaning. With the pollution and infiltration of the Western culture on Zambian soil, abstinence or "virgin power" is mere rhetoric.

The pollution that comes out of television screens, radio airwaves, print media, internet and so forth has captured the minds of many, leading to addiction and experimentation.

The lust for pornography and the idea of wanting to replicate what eyes have seen or ears have heard clouds the imaginations of many young or old.

The tragedy about 21st Century Zambia is that a lot of young people grow up without mentorship, which is why they go on living life experimenting on just about anything, thereby putting their lives at greater risk.

Unlike in years past, when oral culture was passed from one generation to another through educative stories told around the fire or after supper, today's Zambian parents and guardians are busy meeting deadlines at the expense of consolidating their families.

Old people today go to the grave without sharing their knowledge with those whose lives are just starting.

Further, the responsibility to teach or raise children is left to maids, television (Hollywood) and schools, which apparently can make a graduate but cannot produce a responsible citizen. Thus, the timeless truth that "charity begins at home" still hold true. Parents and guardians should re-order their priorities.

Unless basic issues are dealt with, Zambia would worry about the effects of moral decay, on a population that is relatively young.

It is not enough to throw toys, money or other gifts at children without developing a connection with them, for the purpose of imparting values that could secure their future from harmful influences.

Anyhow, the use and promotion of condoms, though widely condemned by religious groups as perpetrating immorality, is seen by promoters as one way of reducing HIV infections and other related illnesses.

They are also seen as a birth control or family planning mechanism if you like.

The truth, however, is that a lot of people are sexually active and what kind of protection do they use?

Mr Nkonde's argument is that ZABS does not have capacity to test all the different brands of condoms that enter the Zambian market.

But ZABS says only 98 per cent or 98 in every 100 condoms are safe because these are normally tested, with their efficacy proven and certified.

The larger percentage of condoms said to be safe are those imported by Government and Society for Family Health (SFH).

These are as per procedure subjected to scrutiny before being unleashed on the market.

The two per cent account for condoms imported outside this arrangement, and include companies and other arrangements.

Of these, the ZABS does not test.

Bureau director Manuel Mutale said recently that his organisation was ready to dialogue with any stakeholders like CYCORPS to trace any pirated condoms penetrating the market.

His statement comes in the wake of discovery of fake products on the Zambian market putting the lives of people at risk.

It remains true that ZABS has no capacity to monitor incoming condoms in Zambia and as a result, the condoms freely go on the market.

And Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authority director of inspectorate and licensing, Caroline Yeta says her organisation has engaged CYCORPS together with ZABS to ensure that all counterfeit products are dealt with in accordance with the law.

The problem of fake condoms is not only a Zambian crisis. Last year, in December the Tanzanian Bureau of Standards (TBS) impounded 330 boxes of counterfeit condoms.

TBS established in a prompt inspection in various parts of Dar-es-Salaam that the US$138,815 million (about 220m/-) condoms branded 'Melt Me' from India are already on the market.

Members of the general public were alerted not to use 'Melt Me' condoms since they were sub-standard, thus could not serve the intended purpose of protecting users against STIs including HIV/AIDS.

That country's director of quality management, Lazaro Msasalaga said 'Melt Me' condoms failed laboratory water tests, package seal and air inflation.

However, Silent No More, a faith-based organisation formed to uphold morality is concerned with the current debate on fake condoms.

"If we live sexually pure lives, issues of fake or so-called safe condoms will not affect us as a nation. Abstinence is the way to go and the best," says director Patson Kunda.

His argument is that condoms have surfaced because people have embraced immorality and it has become a part of life, unfortunately.

"As a Christian nation our yardstick must be the bible. Our organisation promotes abstinence as opposed to the use of condoms," he says.

The appearance of fake condoms on the market is therefore a clear example that condoms cannot be trusted and those who abstain are safer than those who use condoms.

He has several questions to the promoters of condoms. How one tell the difference between a fake condom and a 'safe' one?

Secondly, how many people in our nation have used the fake condoms, thereby exposing themselves to STIs, including HIV/AIDS? Thirdly, what psychological effect has the discovery of fake condoms had on condom users?

Well, Pastor Kunda, whose organisation is strongly opposed to sex outside marriage, believes there is no security in condoms but rather in abstinence for those who are not married and faithfulness for those who are married.

As long as Zambia's moral index was going down, condoms would not save the day.

His argument is that the debate should not be about fake or genuine condoms, but the debate should be morality.

Well, it is no secret that condoms or reproductive health in general is huge business, attracting a lot of donor funding.

Reproductive health products, conversational or non conversional now sell like hot cakes throughout the country. Sexual enhancing drugs, herbs, concoctions and other related things have flooded the market, something that the Zambia Bureau of Standards should do something about.

Those who engage in sex as a form of recreation, experimentation or even a source of income, find themselves at a greater risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

As pastor Kunda would contend, condoms are not the ultimate solution to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

True, a condom may save one from contracting the virus or other sexually transmitted diseases, but it cannot save one from their morals.

The issue of morals is personal and at the end of the day, it is a personal responsibility.

The ultimate solution for HIV/AIDS is change in mind and behaviour patterns.

That means those who consider themselves to be role models, especially in the entertainment industry should use their talents responsibly. Much of the half naked dressing and explicit music content done by some of our musicians is for the most part, responsible for the continued mental pollution in young people (fans) who they have captured under their spell.

What is the motive of dressing half naked or singing about sexual acts? Answer: to corrupt people's minds and this in itself has compromised the fight against HIV/AIDS.

A change in behaviour patterns is more redemptive compared to the promotion of condoms.

Counterfeit condoms, like any other illegal products, should not find their way on Zambian market.

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