February 17, 2012
Last year, the Florida health department's Division of Disease Control distributed about 15.2 million condoms of all varieties throughout the state. In the Keys, nearly 500,000 were given out at 130 locations from Key Largo to Key West to help prevent HIV.
The Keys population numbers about 78,000; nearly 900 residents have HIV/AIDS, and another 600 have died from it, said Cyna Wright, Monroe County's HIV/AIDS program coordinator. About one in 60 men over age 12 in Monroe County has HIV -- second only to Florida's Miami-Dade County, where about one in 56 has HIV, said Wright.
In the 1990s, Monroe County primarily distributed condoms to gay bars; strip clubs also provided them. Today, condoms are placed in venues that are part of people's everyday lives, including churches, barbershops, and beauty salons.
"I wanted to decrease the stigma surrounding safety in bed," Wright said. "I wanted to put it in the same parameters of getting a condom just like you would get a haircut."
At the Headlines Hair and Nails beauty salon and Stock Island Fades & Spa barbershop, condoms are kept in boxes that say "We play safe in the Keys." "I tell them, 'Girl, don't wait for your son to ask for them. Just keep them in your house,'" said Cissy Bourzikos, an HHN nail technician. At SIFS, many condoms are picked up by US Coast Guard and Navy personnel, as well as by some retirees.
"Each HIV case costs in the $500,000 range for care over a lifetime," Wright said. "Public health is why we are doing what we are doing."