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| Author: Rineke van Dam

BLOG: A business case for unforgettable, safe sex

Imagine you could only have safe sex nine times a year. At other times you would have to control yourself, or just accept the risks. This is the reality in sub-Sahara Africa where only nine condoms a year are available for each sexually active man or woman, not to mention that only one female condom per year is available for every eight women!

The United Nations is in despair due to decreasing budgets for prevention of HIV and other STIs and is looking to the private sector for saviour. The Durexes of this world will have to help to solve the scarcity of contraceptives.

January 2015, representatives of 50 condom manufacturers met in Bangkok, Thailand. Businessmen and women who were challenged and encouraged to sell condoms in Africa. Men and women in these countries want sex to be not only safe but also pleasurable. They want flavoured and textured condoms, all the trimmings. They don’t want the free but of cheap rubber smelling condoms that the government and the UN distribute.

Selling condoms in Africa is also commercially interesting. The market potential is enormous in some of the world’s most densely populated countries such as Nigeria and Ethiopia. These have flourishing economies with a young and growing sexually active population, urban, hip and modern. What are the condom manufacturers waiting for?

Condom scarcity in Africa will, however, not be solved by the economy of demand and supply. Donor support remains necessary.  

Vulnerable groups have no money

Africa may be growing economically, but the groups disproportionately affected by HIV, STIs and unplanned pregnancies do not profit from this. Poor, often young women, people in remote areas and sex workers have no money to buy condoms. Targeted support to provide them with good quality condoms is essential for public health. Easy and sufficient (more than nine per year!) access to male and female condoms for vulnerable groups is of vital importance.

Female condoms

Female condoms are still too new to be left to the law of the market. Few people know the product and it has limited availability. However, the female condom has great advantages in comparison to the male condom. The woman has a say in her own protection. The man doesn’t have to fiddle about at the moment suprême; it fits everyone and the ring or sponge offers more pleasure. But did you know that? Who is prepared to pay for something that they are not familiar with?

Donors can help to promote the product to men and women and to stimulate innovation, variation and competition. We can only then speak of a market. The female condom has many possibilities for quality sex, and also encouraging people to protect themselves.

Education, education, education

Good sex education, in and out of school, combined with the availability of condoms leads to safe sex and subsequently to less STIs and unplanned pregnancies. Education breaks taboos, makes sex a topic of conversation and eventually leads to a decrease in teenage pregnancies and HIV infections. The Netherlands is a role model for this approach. Companies, however, cannot provide impartial education and many governments fall short on fulfilling their responsibilities. This is where money for development aid – also from the Netherlands, or perhaps particularly from the Netherlands – is indispensable.

Don’t get me wrong – many Africans, especially in the cities, can and certainly want to pay for condoms, certainly when they are available in strawberry flavour, textured and with toys that improve the sexual experience. However, extra help is needed to make male and female condoms available and accessible to everyone. Prevention is ultimately the most intelligent investment against HIV and other STIs. It is therefore high time for donors to go further and ensure, together with the business world, that the average African can have safe sex more than nine times a year.

Rineke van Dam

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