New import measures lead to condom shortage

New measures aimed at preventing the dumping of low quality condoms in Uganda have resulted in shortages across the country, a senior health ministry official told PlusNews on Tuesday.

"After getting a batch of Engabu brand condoms [a widely used government-subsidized brand] recently with a bad smell, the process of allowing into the country consignments was lengthened by introducing pre-shipment and post-shipment tests," Elizabeth Madra, National AIDS Programme Manager, said.

"We recently imported 10 million condoms of this brand, which were supposed to be distributed country-wide free of charge, but we still need to test them before they are put on the market so as to be on the safe side," she told PlusNews in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Previously, all one needed prior to importing condoms into Uganda was a letter from the country in which the product was made, certifying that it met the recommended standards. In September, however, the government introduced the new regulations after one consignment of condoms was found to have perforations and a bad smell.

Madra said that importation of all condoms was now subject to the new measures and that even those already in the market would be tested.

"We have also told our people upcountry to test what they have," she said. "Because of the hitch on the Engabu brand, we are struggling to restore the confidence of the population in the brand."

Ugandans use between 80 and 100 million condoms annually as part of the country's anti-HIV/AIDS strategy of ABC - Abstain [from sex], be faithful [to one partner] or use a condom. That strategy, according to the government, has helped reduce infection rates from as high as 30 percent in the early 1990s, to about 6 percent currently.

Madra said samples of the Engabu condoms that developed the bad smell had been sent to the UN World Health Organization for tests. The "results indicated that the condoms had deteriorated, probably as result of poor storage and transportation", she added.

According to Ugandan health officials, five million non-Engabu condoms were left in the country, which would be enough for only two more months.

Population Services International, an organisation that supplies Protector brand condoms, was left with only one million, while another 10 million Protector condoms were stuck in a warehouse in Kampala awaiting clearance from the National Drug Authority, officials said.

The use of condoms has universally been promoted as an effective way of stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.