The UK’s Department of Health launched a new campaign on Friday encouraging young women to carry condoms and were immediately accused of promoting promiscuity by the Muthaliks of the West.
Launched by UK’s Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, the £ 5.2 million campaign — claiming “Condom confidence boosts sex appeal” and “Men like nothing better than a woman who knows what she wants” — is based on research that claims that men find women who carry contraceptives sexy. It even gives risque advice to women on how to persuade men to use condoms, with
suggestions like “Let’s get you ready for the ride of your life” and “If you make it clean, I’ll make it dirty”.
The campaign is also likely to upset Pope Benedict XVI, who in his first papal visit to Africa earlier this week, said, “HIV/AIDS is a tragedy that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.” The Pope is partly right. Using condoms alone cannot stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But he’s wrong in saying that it is fuelling the spread of the disease because it is well established that condoms prevent HIV transmission.
I must admit that the opposition to condoms in the West gave me some satisfaction. After all, misery loves company and there is a certain comfort in knowing that crazy people exist in countries other than my own.
What made me truly happy was the realisation that the Muthaliks of India are wise enough to leave the government’s AIDS prevention and population stabilisation campaigns alone. Interestingly, apart from former health minister Sushma Swaraj’s Pope-like statement in 2003 on the need to make the AIDS control programme less condom-centric, there has been no criticism of condom promotion.
The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), for one, has never shied away from condom-promotion. Last year, it went as far as to conceive a “condom-condom” ringtone to destigmatise condom use and encourage responsible sexual behaviour in young people between 15 and 35 years.
Called “condom a cappella” — Italian for “in chapel style”, refers to chants or singing without music — the ringtone is a part of NACO’s two-year project that uses youth-friendly platforms such as films, online games, mobile advertising and downloads for condom promotion.
Numbers confirm the importance of latex in India. NACO alone distributed 1.72 billion condoms from April 2008 to January 2009 through sales, social marketing at subsidised prices, and free distribution. Added to this are the millions marketed by private companies.
“Over 110 million condoms, against the target of 75 million, were marketed under the social-marketing programme that reached 2.71 lakh outlets in 194 districts. That apart, 1.5 million condoms have been procured for sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Maharashtra, where the prevalence of HIV is high among sex workers,” NACO’s Sujatha Rao told HT.
In India, it has played a major role in the numbers plateauing at under 2.5 million for three successive years — from 2.3 million in 2007 and 2.47 in 2006. Though the 2008 data is still being compiled, there is no indication for a sudden spurt in numbers.
It seems we in Hindustan love our latex. And wisely so.