For the first time, non-governmental organisation Action for Aids (AfA) is giving away free condoms to any adult who wants it – instead of distributing only to selected groups of people deemed to be at a higher risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes Aids.
It has given away 85 boxes since last year and has done this by mail as well.
Doctors and social workers said the giveaway is a positive move to encourage condom use, as it is a highly effective way of preventing the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), when used consistently and correctly.
Dr Tan Kok Kuan, of Dr Tan & Partners, said: “By giving (condoms) to anyone who wants them instead of selected groups, this normalises condom usage. So people wouldn’t associate the use of condoms with a certain group of people or a certain lifestyle.”
The AfA, which is dedicated to fighting Aids, is giving out a box of 144 condoms to any adult who is keen. Each box from the supplier comes with that number of condoms. AfA checks to ensure that the condoms are given only to adults who ask for it.
AfA general manager Sumita Banerjee said the move is to increase awareness of the need to practise safer sex and clear an excess stock of condoms that it has. “Since condoms have an expiry date and this also fits with our mission of preventing HIV through the promotion of condom use, we started this initiative for a limited period.”
It publicised the giveaway only on its website as those who visit the site are likely to be seeking information on HIV and, hence, be part of its target audience.
For deliveries to a mailing address, AfA is collecting a $20 delivery fee to cover its administrative expenses. Ms Banerjee did not reveal the condom’s brand, except to say it is a reputable one and that its stock expires in 2021.
For years, the AfA has been doing what it calls “targeted outreach”, where it distributes free condoms to those deemed to be at a higher risk of contracting HIV due to their risky sexual behaviour. It also distributes condoms at venues frequented by these higher-risk persons, such as clubs and saunas, while promoting the importance of HIV testing.
Those interviewed say the fear of being seen – and even judged by others – while buying condoms over the counter is one barrier to using them.
Cost is another factor as to why some people do not use condoms consistently. Depending on the brand and its specifications, the price of a box of condoms ranges from $9.90 for 12 pieces to $24.50 for 10 pieces, going by checks of shops here.
However, Ms Lena Teo of the Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association said some young people would not wear a condom even if they get them free. They may not be aware of its protective benefits and may think they will never contract an STI or HIV.
The number of people diagnosed with HIV has fallen from about 450 Singaporeans and permanent residents a year since 2008 to 408 last year. Most were infected through sex. However, the Health Ministry earlier said it is “too early to postulate a downward trend” in the number of HIV cases.
By Theresa Tan for The Straits Times