29 July 2013

Namibia: Free Condoms On the Decline

THE withdrawal of funds for HIV programmes in the country by donors has resulted in a loss of several Condom Logistics Officers (CLO's) and a reduction in the funds available to pay for key operational items such as transport in recent years.

This was revealed in the National Condom Strategy for 2013/14-2017-18 drafted by the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

According to the document, the role of CLO's is to support condom logistics and promotion at district hospitals and regional medical stores and coordinate the condom programme at regional and district levels in collaboration with the regional government and NGOs.

CLOs also act as a link between the regional medical stores and the district hospitals, where condoms are stored, and local health facilities and other condom outlets run by the ministry and local stakeholders.

The ministry says that the lack of funds has resulted in a loss of several CLO posts and further handicapped their work because of a lack of computers and the need to share computers with regional office staff.

"These factors have impacted negatively on the ability of the CLO's to perform the sub-national coordination and distribution responsibilities assigned to them," reads the document. The document also estimated that some 70% of current free issue condom supplies are procured by the government.

Figures provided by the ministry also show a substantial decline in free condom distribution since 2008 and 2009.

"In that year, the total number of free issue male condoms distributed by the ministry stood at around 25 million. It then fell to approximately 21 million between 2009 and 2010 and 2010 and 2011, and then plummeted to some 15,3 million in 2011 and 2012," says the ministry.

The ministry says free issue female condom distribution also declined over the same period, from 499 000 in 2009 and 2010 to 281 000 in 2011 and 2012.

"Although the ending of funding accounts for a substantial amount of the decline in 2011 and 2012, free issue condom distribution was on a downward spiral before the funding withdrawal," the ministry reveals.

According to Executive Director of the Namibia AIDS Service Organisation Sandie Tjaronda, Namibia currently does not have a short-supply of condoms but there are "logistical hick-ups" in the distribution process.

"Since most of the condoms distributed by government are facility-based, there is a problem with accessibility. People are not able to access condoms at odd hours of the day as most of the condoms are only available at health facilities and other outlets but not where the people are," he said.

He said the tussle between the government and the Commodity Exchange Namibia on the ownership and the intellectual property rights of the Smile branded condom a while ago had caused a shift from the real issue at hand.

"We should take away issues of our own individual interest and look at the population's needs, we should not make decisions that compromise the response to the HIV pandemic," he said.

Tjaronda also said condom repackaging should be tailor-made to appeal to the youth. "I would like to see a more user-friendly, accepted product for the young people. Young people are very selective on the products they use," he said.

He said since the Cool Ryder branded condoms, supplied by the National Social Marketing Programme (Nasoma), that were a popular choice among young people were removed from the market due to donor fund withdrawal, there were a lot of new infections reported afterwards. Tjaronda also said there are currently not enough tools to target young people.

"Most of our health facilities are not youth-friendly. Staff are not trained to deal with the sexual issues facing young people and would rather criticise them for contracting sexually transmitted diseases," he said.

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