Tens of thousands of condoms that the Washington, D.C., Department of Health provided at no cost to residents have been returned because of concerns about the condoms' packaging and safety, the Washington Post reports. District health officials in February distributed 250,000 condoms as part of the health department's efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The first batch of condoms went to several not-for-profit organizations and community health providers. The department said it aimed to distribute one million condoms by the end of 2007. The condoms' purple and yellow package is printed in English and Spanish and carries the slogan, "We've got you covered. Coming together to stop HIV in D.C.".
According to the Post, concerns about the condoms "arose almost immediately" after the program began. Demand at two distribution sites established by not-for-profit organizations dropped by more than 80% shortly after the condoms were introduced. More than 2,000 packets were being distributed weekly in mid-March, but by late May, about 400 were being dispensed weekly, the Post reports.
Volunteers said people complained about condom packets "ripping in purses or bursting open in pockets," and some recipients said they lacked confidence that the condoms would provide protection, according to the Post. In addition, the expiration dates on some of the condoms were illegible, the Post reports.
Officials at about six organizations that had been distributing the condoms interviewed on Tuesday said they received negative feedback from clients. Many clients said that the condoms' packaging seemed substandard, according to the Post. "People were saying, 'These packets aren't any good,'" Franck DeRose -- executive director of the Condom Project, which was involved with the distribution program -- said.
A coalition that includes the Condom Project returned about 100,000 condoms to the district, about 15% of what the city says has been distributed to groups. Metro TeenAIDS Executive Director Adam Tenner said some youths involved with the group "doubted the authenticity of the condoms" and wondered why the wrappers were not plastic or foil, like those sold in stores. "Distribution of those condoms has been really difficult," he said, adding, "The question becomes, how do we fix this?".
DeRose said the not-for-profit groups tried to warn officials before sending back the condoms. "There was no talk about (getting) a different condom," he said, adding, "They said, 'This is what we have.'" The coalition, which launched a condom distribution program last fall, has begun purchasing its own condoms again.
The coalition's condoms are being used up rapidly, according to the Post. The health department "apparently does not consider the situation a problem," according to the Post. Health department spokesperson Leila Abrar said in a statement, "To date, we have not received any substantive complaints."
According to the statement, the district has distributed nearly 650,000 condoms since February through partnerships with 50 organizations. The health department has taken notice of the comments about the district condoms' packaging, the Post reports. According to Abrar's statement, the city will hold a "contest for new versions" of its next condom package.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation