International Condom Day is celebrated on February 13th – a day before Valentines Day, as a way of reminding ourselves about condoms and how effective they are in preventing pregnancies and STIs, including HIV. This year’s theme is Safer Is Fun and since its inception in 2009, the day is commemorated as an effort to reduce and stop new HIV infections through safe sex practices.
Since its invention and use back in 3000 BC by King Minos of Crete, condoms have been a topic of nosiness throughout history and the idea of safer sex has been explored in ancient times and used to prevent venereal diseases. Romans used bladder of animals as condoms to protect the woman not from pregnancies but from venereal diseases until Charles Goodyear who used vulcanization – the process of transforming rubber in malleable structures – to produce latex condoms.
About 1.5 million people are living with HIV in Kenya and the national prevalence is estimated to be at 4.9 per cent. The main mode of HIV transmission is through sexual contact with accounts for about 80% of all new HIV infections. According to the 2018 HIV estimates, adolescents and young people account for 40% of new HIV infections and the reasons cited for the increase include low-risk perception of HIV and changing attitudes and casual sex with multiple partners which have also led to increasing of adolescent and teenage pregnancies.
The reduction of new HIV infections is the first objective in the Kenya AIDS Strategic Framework and Kenya being a member of UN member states is committed to contributing in reduction of new HIV infections to fewer than 500,000 globally. In the effort to reduce new HIV infections, the National AIDS Control Council is distributing condoms and installing condom dispensers across the country and since October last year over 400 condom dispensers and 300,000 male condoms have been distributed in nine counties – Homa Bay, Nyandarua, Kakamega, Siaya, Mombasa, Kisii, Kisumu, Kiambu and Nairobi. The distribution targets areas that are highly and frequently visited such as public toilets, bars and lodges. The initiative is to promote the sufficient supply and making condoms accessible to the people who need them and when they need them.
The use of condoms is cited to contribute to the reduction of HIV transmission and stopped the wider spread of HIV in places where the epidemic is concentrated. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), through a global modelling analysis, condoms are said to have averted around 50 million new HIV infections since the onset of the HIV epidemic. Currently, Kenya is finalizing its Condom Strategy Plan that will provide a national framework to guide implementation of a comprehensive condom program through advocacy and promotion, distribution and proper disposal and structured monitoring and evaluation strategies to promote the uptake and consistent use of condoms.
As the world has progressively come up with major scientific advances in areas of HIV prevention apart from condoms such as biomedical interventions such as antiretroviral therapy (ART) which has substantially reduced HIV transmission. Condoms still remain central in HIV response because only when sustained viral suppression is confirmed and very closely monitored in a person living with HIV, – and when the risk of other STIs and unintended pregnancy is low, it may be safe not to use a condom.
The National AIDS Control Council together with partners will be celebrating the International Condom Day in 3 counties – Kirinyaga, Homabay and Muranga with the national event being held at Kirinyaga University in Kirinyaga County starting at 8.00 a.m. As we celebrate the International Condom Day on 13 February, let us remember that Safer is Fun, with a condom!