UN blames high rubber prices for condom shortage

Experts are upbeat the shortage shows campaigns were successful. Photo/CHRIS OJOW
Experts are upbeat the shortage shows campaigns were successful. Photo/CHRIS OJOW  

Inflated global prices of rubber and petroleum delayed the buying of condoms that should have arrived in the country two months ago, causing a shortage that could reverse gains made in the campaign to stop the spread of Aids.

It is now emerging that the UN family planning agency delayed the consignment of 35 million condoms after the manufacturer adjusted the prices in response to the global prices of oil and rubber, the two main components used in making condoms.

“The manufacturers wanted to adjust their prices. We had to enter into negotiations to buy the condoms at a favourable cost,” said Dr Stephen Wanyee, the assistant representative UNFPA country office.

Last week, the UN blamed the condom shortage on its lengthy procurement procedures.

UNFPA pays three dollars for 144 condoms. With the escalating global fuel prices, this cost is likely to go higher, which means more funding will be needed to buy the products which are distributed free in public outlets.

An alternative would be to ask users to meet a fraction of the costs, prompting fears of unhygienic use of the condoms or increased unprotected sex, the main conduit through which the HIV virus is transmitted.

The consignment that was to arrive in February is expected in the country later this week.

Once procured, the condoms are distributed across all public health institutions by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency.

In social places like bars and restaurants, institutions and non-governmental facilities, distribution is handled by the National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) and the National Aids Control Council (NACC).

It would be the first lot of condoms brought in since January when 28 million condoms were imported.

Although these were projected to last 13 weeks until March, they were taken up in six weeks due to increased demand following a campaign against unprotected sex among pregnant women aimed at reducing mother to child transmission of HIV/Aids.

Kenya relies on donor support to provide free condoms. In 2009, the government was loaned $12 million (Sh960 million) by the World Bank to buy condoms, enabling it enter an exclusive three-year contract with UNFPA to supply the products, mostly from Asia.

According to Dr Sobbie Mulindi, the deputy director at NACC, inadequate resources have left crucial health programmes at the mercy of donors.

While the Abuja Declaration of 2001 requires African governments to allocate 15 per cent of their national budgets to the health sector, Kenya commits about seven per cent.

Last year, Palm Health Care International had announced plans to set up a condom manufacturing plant in Kenya.

But Business Daily has learnt the project did not take off by last month as expected amid concerns that the government would not guarantee a market for locally manufactured condoms.

Procurement process

“The procurement process boils down to quality and pricing,” said Dr Shahnaz Shariff, director of public health and sanitation.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) has promised to deliver 45 million condoms as an emergency to address the shortage.

Locally, health experts say the shortage indicates safety campaigns are a success.

Last year it was estimated that seven million Kenyans use condoms but that is estimated to have risen to 20 million, according to the ministry of public health.