Condoms Still Out in the Cold at Toronto AIDS Conference
16 Aug 2006
16 Aug 2006
TORONTO — “Prevention” and “new technologies” are the buzzwords at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, but UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is calling attention to the fact that millions of people still lack access to the most basic and available preventive method of all—the male and female condom.
The Conference, which has attracted 25,000 scientists, activists and policymakers from all over the world, marks the first time the international community has seized upon prevention as the most cost-effective and sustainable response to the global pandemic. Keynote speakers former United States President William Clinton and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates both emphasized the need for female-controlled methods, such as microbicides to halt the virus’s spread—particularly among young women and girls who now make up the fastest growing proportion of the newly infected. The potential of vaccines and male circumcision to slow transmission rates have also grabbed the lion’s share of attention.
Steve Kraus, Chief of the HIV Branch of UNFPA, asserts that, while discussions around new prevention technologies represent an important step in the evolution of the global HIV response, all of them are still years away from becoming widely available.
“People are getting infected now,” he says. “While we applaud discussion and research into new technologies, we are still not using what we have available today. The condom already exists and it hasn’t been delivered. It works and represents the best tool we have in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Kraus.
Today, an estimated 8 to 10 million condoms are being used in low- and middle-income countries. This represents only half of the total need. In sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence is highest, African males have access to only 10 condoms on average—per year. While female condom distribution is increasing, the total market share remains woefully low—at only 0.3 per cent—despite rising demand in high-prevalence settings such as Zimbabwe and Malawi.
To meet increased demand, UNAIDS estimates, resources will have to double from about $320 million a year today to between $500 million and $630 million by 2015.
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