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The Condom Conundrum: How To Persuade Africa's Prostitutes To Practice Safe Xes

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Day Two Nairobi, Kenya

Gloria Gakki should be in line to win $100,000 (£62,000). Her idea for improving the appeal of condoms meets the “grand challenge” launched by Bill Gates who earlier this year offered the prize to anyone who could devise a means of increasing their popularity. She is training sex workers to put condoms on with their mouths.

Read more:

A journey to the heart of Africa’s Aids epidemic

The Ministry of Defence in Zambia could be a winner, too. It has designed a packet in camouflage colours and labelled it “Full Combat”.

The problem with the condom has never been its effectiveness but its acceptability. Despite 30 years of research and the expenditure of billions of dollars, no one has come up with a better form of protection against HIV. But worldwide only 5 per cent of men use them.

It’s like sucking a sweet with the paper on, its detractors say. You don’t eat a banana without peeling it.

On the wall of Ms Gakki’s office more than 100 different varieties are displayed – flavoured, ribbed, coloured – in their glittering packages. As prevention manager for the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Nairobi she hands out 1.5 million each year, more than any other organisation in Kenya. “If we didn’t have condoms, Nairobi would be on fire,” she said.

Condom use among sex workers in Nairobi has risen from near zero in the 1980s to approaching 100 per cent today. It has been achieved, she said, by “moving the focus from the professionals to the community that uses them”.

But condoms have a fatal flaw – it is called trust. While their use in casual sex has hugely improved over the past 20 years, once couples are established they discard them. To continue implies mistrust.

In Livingstone, on Zambia’s border with Zimbabwe and Botswana close to Victoria Falls, one in five of the population are infected with HIV. A border town with a mobile population, truck stops and cross-border traders smuggling fuel, alcohol and soft drinks it is a magnet for sex workers. Squatting in the dust with a group of a dozen sex workers, Abigail, 27, says she has three boyfriends. “They give you things. I don’t use condoms with them. It is not possible.”

In Johannesburg, a 2010 study found more than 90 per cent of sex workers said they used condoms with clients. But half said they dropped them with boyfriends and partners.

More at the link.

Yep they'll certainly give you things, especially the type of things you don't want!

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