- South Africa's Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang today unveiled a new brand of the government's free condoms with increased sex appeal. The colourful condoms are freely distributed in a government effort to halt the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While the youth is the campaign's major target, it is also hoped women will get an easier access to condoms.
Ms Tshabalala-Msimang today presented a novelty in South Africa's fight against AIDS. While the Health Department has been freely distributing condoms for almost ten years, their dull grey colour did not appeal to South Africans. At the Boksburg production facility, the Minister therefore presented the new brand of government condoms; "Choice".
- The new packaging was tested among young South Africans, who recognised 'Choice' for its funky, punchy and straightforward attitude, Minister Tshabalala-Msimang told the press in Boksburg. The "Choice" condom comes in several bright colours, including blue, yellow, red and orange.
The free government condoms - which according to the Minister are one of the Ministry's "key strategies" against HIV/AIDS - had suffered from a poor reputation in the population. A recent study revealed that South Africans found the less reliable and duller than condoms bought in pharmacies.
Ms Tshabalala-Msimang at the "Choice" launch thus both emphasised on the new brand's sex appeal and safety. According to the Minister, the condoms had been quality assured by the South African Bureau of Standards and were an effective means of preventing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and unplanned pregnancy.
Although the government condoms needed a shape-up, their hitherto grey appearance had not hindered a significant success. Last year, 270 million male condoms were distributed free of charge - six for each South African. Additionally, some 1.4 million female condoms were distributed through spaza shops, taverns, hair salons and other outlets.
While the government distribution of condoms has reached record numbers each and every year, the Health Department still found it difficult to reach the youth and women, representing two of the main groups with high HIV infection rates.
- While new condoms are available for use by all sexually active South Africans, it is specifically being promoted to those between the ages of 18-35, Ms Tshabalala-Msimang said today. "Condoms should not only be a necessity but should be seen as sexy and part of fun," she added.
The launch of the sexed-up new condom brand however doesn't address another problem regarding the use of this HIV preventer. South African women still often lack the possibility to demand their sexual partners use condoms. In particular in rural areas, women's demand for condom use is checked by conservative men.
According to Nthari Matsau, Deputy Director-General of South Africa's Health Department, the high levels of HIV/AIDS in rural areas partly is due to the inequality that exists between men and women there. "The subservience of women is the major factor in the lack of use of condoms," Ms Matsau said at a recent briefing of the Department's strategic plan.
She added that the "emotional lack of access" to condoms drove up the infection rate, even though condoms were physically available. Women needed to be empowered to choose condoms, Ms Matsau's bottom line conclusion was.
Also Minister Tshabalala-Msimang commented on this still to be addressed problem. "We need to say to our partners; 'no choice, no play," she told the press in Boksburg. In addition to present a sexier condom, she hoped this launch would increase AIDS awareness among South Africans.
An estimated 6 million South Africans are living with HIV or AIDS, making South Africa one of the countries in the world with the highest HIV infection rate. Minister Tshabalala-Msimang has repeatedly been criticised for not doing enough to halt the AIDS pandemic in the country.
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