October 9, 2002
Donations of condoms from rich nations to poor ones, already deeply inadequate, have declined over the past decade, just as a few countries have successfully used them to fight the ever-worsening AIDS epidemic. The world's poorest countries need between 8 billion and 10 billion condoms a year to help stem the spread of AIDS. But, according to the United Nations Population Fund, they receive less than 1 billion, and donations have slipped to 950 million from 970 million in the last decade.
The biggest decline in donations was from the United States, which gave the Third World 800 million condoms in 1990 but only 360 million in 2000. The UN and European aid agencies, notably Britain's, stepped in to try to make up the difference. American donations dropped for several reasons, said Mark Rilling, chief of the population commodities division of the United States Agency for International Development. In the 1990s, some major condom recipients, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Zaire, became ineligible for foreign aid because of coups, wars, or shifts to other donors. Also, "buy American" laws meant that the federal government had to pay about 6 cents per condom, while the price from factories in India, China, Thailand and Malaysia, even with quality testing, is about 3 cents.
While lobbying by the religious right has cut federal budgets for related programs, Rilling contends that political pressure was "not a factor" in the decline of his agency's condom exports or new efforts to increase them. Along with billions more condoms, poor countries need another $1.2 billion to help distribute them and teach their use, according to the family planning group Population Action International.
The goal is to have condoms distributed as widely as Coca-Cola and other goods found in the smallest village shop in Africa or Asia. "Cigarettes can get to the most remote corners of the world," said Terri Bartlett, Population Action International's vice president. "So should condoms."