Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cuba Faces Condom Shortage

Cuba Faces Condom Shortage
April 19, 2014
By José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — The iffy supply of condoms in Cuban pharmacies and
markets in recent months has meant greater risk for some and an
impediment to others who prefer to restrain their libidos rather than
fall sick or become pregnant.

The situation seems to have worsened since early April but has been
intermittent for more than a year, in another recurring episode of
bureaucratic mismanagement and shortages.

"I don't know what's happening, but I know that they're not available,"
says a young student of medicine, who adds a warning about the danger
posed by the lack of condoms. "The indices of pregnancies and abortions
are up, and so are the sexually transmitted diseases," (STD) he says.

The condom conundrum

According to the Public Health Ministry, the interruption in the
distribution of "preservativos" occurred because of the need to
repackage millions of units of the "Momentos" brand, which arrived from
China showing an expiration date of 2012 although they're good until
late 2014.

The process meant recalling the product throughout the island and
relabeling it, in the absence of new supplies of other brands or even
the same brand.

Evidently, it has been impossible to solve the problem quickly, because
the health authorities on April 7 authorized the sale of condoms without
correcting the "printing error," according to an announcement by the
Medical Supplies Enterprise and the Center for the State Control of
Medications, Medical Equipment and Devices (CECMED).

As articles for medical use, condoms are heavily subsidized, because the
price of a strip of three units is barely 1 peso — less than five cents
of a dollar. But the fact that they are a product managed only by the
health authorities means that the market leaves little room to choose.

"Although the Momentos condoms have never been among the better
accepted, they're the ones that the government bought and they're the
only ones that are available until year's end," admits one of the
specialists in the STD/HIV/AIDS-prevention program.

He sides with those who say that Cuba does not import products from
wherever it wants but from wherever it can, due to the lack of money and
the U.S. embargo.

Until recently, Cubans could buy other condoms sold under the brand
names "Love" and "Vigor" (the latter a product financed by the United
Nations World Fund) but the contract with the makers of the former was
not renewed and the latter used up the five years of international
financing it had for its production.

Not just quantity; quality, too

"The Momentos are supposed to be tested electronically, but I don't
believe that because, when you open them, it is obvious that they have
very little lubricant," says Claudia Martínez, a young radio reporter in
south-central Cuba.

"I've found that the condoms sometimes break," says a 19-year-old girl.
Her opinion on the quality of the available condoms coincides with those
of many others.

"The number of condoms that break matches the proportion established by
the international parameters," says Ramiro Espinosa González, chief of
the anti-AIDS program in Cienfuegos province.

"There are condoms with better quality and others with standard quality,
but all meet the international requirements for safety," Espinosa says.
"When they break, it's almost always because of the improper technique
used to slip them on."

According to medical indicators, for a population to consider itself
"sexually protected," it must use condoms in at least 73 percent of all
the acts of copulation.

The reality in Cuba is far from that objective. In a small province like
Cienfuegos (pop. 400,000) only 28 percent of the sexually active
population uses prophylactics, yet it's one of the provinces with the
highest condom usage.

Colors and types of every variety

Some users are advocating an increase in the supplies but without state
subsidy, so as not to depend on just one option.

In some stores, condoms are sold in convertible pesos, or CUC, a unit of
currency equivalent to one dollar or 24 "national" pesos, or CUP, but
the prices are a strain on a Cuban's average income. A box can cost as
much as 1.80 CUC (almost 50 CUP), one-eighth of the average monthly wage
in Cuba.

In the face of a fluctuating supply, a momentary solution is solidarity.

"Friends tell each other who has [condoms] and where. They share a few
of them, because the only option is abstinence, if we don't want to
contract a disease or become pregnant," says blogger Alejando Ulloa, one
of the many young men who have to walk up and down the streets of the
capital to find a condom or the answer to why they disappeared.

Source: Cuba Faces Condom Shortage - Havana -

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