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Cuba Faces Condom Shortage

A current condom shortage in Cuba is stirring fears of higher STD rates and unplanned pregnancies.

Pharmacies in Cuba's central province of Villa Clara began running out of condoms in March, and the suburbs of Havana are now affected as well. The city of Santa Clara, which has one of the highest HIV rates in Cuba, has been hit the hardest.

"In the great majority of pharmacies in the municipality of Playa, there's a shortage," wrote Polina Martinez Shvietsova in the initial report on the shortage in the Havana area. "In the municipality of Plaza, in the pharmacy at 23rd and 24th Streets, the salespeople said, 'We have none, and we don't know when they will arrive.'"

The state-run wholesaler Ensume, which obtains and supplies government-subsidized condoms in Cuba, says it has a million condoms in its warehouses. But under a state regulatory ruling regarding an imported shipment of condoms with incorrect expiration dates, Ensume must relabel all of them. As a result of the slow repackaging process, Ensume can only provide around 1,500 condoms per day - far below the need for all the country. (In only the province of Villa Clara, there is a need for 5,000 condoms daily.)

The repackaging raises questions about the safety of the condoms once they go on sale. With the new expiration dates, it will be unclear how old the condoms actually are, and latex degrades over time - potentially putting users at risk of using expired condoms which could tear or break. In addition, the price of one condom has now risen from just a few cents to $1.30 - a typical Cuban worker's daily wages.

The government-run sex education center, Cenesex, has ordered that any available supplies be given to people who are known to be HIV-positive and allocated to the areas with high HIV rates. Cuba currently has a strong HIV-prevention program, with only around 0.1 percent of the population testing HIV-positive. Cuba's HIV/AIDS prevention program relies heavily on educational programs, of which safe sex is a central topic - potentially putting its success at risk with a lowering supply of condoms.

Kenya also faced a severe condom stockout last November. Condom shortages may be the result of inadequate funding or health programs that are fully or partially restricted by an abstinence-only focus - such as the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). When countries find themselves short-stocked on contraceptives, women suffer. An estimated 222 million women around the world wish to either delay or prevent pregnancy but lack access to contraceptives, putting them at risk for injury, illness or death due to pregnancy, childbirth, or unsafe abortions. Further, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.

Media Resources: Miami Herald 4/16/14; The Guardian 4/18/14; RH Reality Check 4/21/14; UNICEF; Feminist Newswire 2/14/05, 10/25/13, 11/6/13; Feminist Campus Global Reproductive Rights Campaign

© Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine

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