Africa Should Manufacture Own Condoms To End New HIV Infections

Julitta Onabanjo

THE United Nations Population Fund, East and Southern Africa (UNFPA-ESARO) Regional Director Dr. Julitta Onabanjo said Africa has a condom gap of 6 billion, a situation which has resulted the in the emergence of new infections  even in countries which used to have low HIV proportions.

By Michael Gwarisa in Nairobi, Kenya

The region has been experiencing a surge in new HIV infections in young adolescent girls despite a reduction in infections in other countries around the world. Countries such as Botswana, Madagascar, Eritria, Burundi and Ethiopia have recording increases in new HIV infections among young girls since the year 2010, according to UNFPA.

Briefing Journalists at the Nairobi Summit on International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr Onabanjo said Africa had a huge condom gap and should stop relying on other nations to manufacture condoms for them.

The grand plan will always remain how do we prevent HIV infections because indeed while we have now an opportunity with Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and making sure people are on treatment, why would we still want people to get infected, when we have all it takes to prevent it. The plan remains prevention of a number of population groups that are particularly at risk and vulnerable.

“If you look at data, we are seeing young girls getting infected every week. In South Africa, 2000 young girls are getting infected every week. The other area that we feel needs to be promoted is that of condoms, on this continent, we have a condoms gap, we don’t have access to it. I am one of the people who have been pushing for manufacturing of condoms in Africa by local Pharmaceutical companies,” said Dr Onabanjo.

She added that condoms were essential tool to the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) package but the huge gap in access and uptake of condoms stands to threaten the existence of an HIV free generation.

“The condom remains a very important preventative tool, so that must be part of the grand plan. It is important to know that there are other key populations that are also vulnerable to new infections. Many a times, government inability to recognise these population groups as high risks makes it difficult for them to access services.”

In Africa, nine of the 10 condoms available are imported and manufactured in other countries. However, there are only five manufacturers of condoms in Africa who are working on getting the standard to generate a market and provide the condom needs for East and Southern Africa.

Dr Onabanjo said they were working with countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to create a conducive environment for manufactures of condoms.

Meanwhile, a feasibility study undertaken by the SADC Secretariat in 2016 noted that the total SADC male condom market was 4 billion units worth USD 105 million, almost all of which are imported from outside the region. Only 10 percent were produced by factories from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

“The problem is that majority of the need is actually South Africa, many of the East and Southern African countries in number terms, don’t provide a good enough market for local manufactures to make even on actually producing condoms.

“What SADC is trying to do is look at a pooled procurement system where we can say for the whole of SADC, what is our need. We are looking at six billion condoms that is the gap that is there on condoms.”

A recent study by UNFPA shows that effective condom programming in high burden countries could avert up to 17 million HIV infections, 700 million STIs, and 420 million unintended pregnancies by 2030.

However, limited production of quality condoms in Africa continues to be a key barrier to regular supply and use of condoms in the ESA region. Therefore, UNFPA is working with investors, manufacturers, governments and development partners to enhance Africa’s condom manufacturing, procurement and distribution capacities.

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