Without a definitive survey it's hard to know the extent of condom use by Swazis, but one group claims to have proof that it's on the rise: the workers at Swaziland's newest sewage treatment plant.
"Condom use has gone up 50 percent this past year," boldly asserts Marvin Simelane, a worker at the new Ngwane Park sewage pumping facility outside the country's most populous urban centre, Manzini.
"We are finding more condoms in the filters that separate solids from liquid waste," said Simelane. "Because of their size, the condoms pass through the first set of large filters and are trapped in the second set of filters, so they are easily identifiable. I guess it's good because it shows people are using condoms."
Used condoms are considered toxic waste and sent with other solid waste to be buried in a new landfill outside the capital, Mbabane.
The facility supervisor takes a rare visitor through the spotless new plant to a conveyor belt that dumps the shredded and discoloured the condoms into an orange container holding tens of thousands, which is sealed before being transported to the landfill.
Liquid waste is sent to a state-of-the-art treatment facility south of Manzini, where it is converted into manure and sold to local farmers.
Partly paid for by a World Bank Loan, the US $16 million station has a lifespan of 25 years, the capacity to treat 250 litres of sewage a second, and discharges 900 cubic metres of processed water an hour.
The plant has ended Manzini's sewage disposal problems, which saw the Umzimene River polluted by overflow from sewage ponds. River water quality has improved since the ponds were retired in May 2005.
The new sewage system has also shown its potential to yield unexpected insights into private lives, in a country where 40 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive. "Everything ends up in the garbage or in the sewer," noted plant worker Amos Ndwandwe.
Health organisations contacted by PlusNews were intrigued by the non-scientific but compelling results of the "sewage sociology" study. "But there is one caveat: who uses Manzini's sewer system? I would think it would be middle-class and wealthier individuals," said the director of an AIDS support group.
The Swaziland Water Services Board, which runs the system, said it essentially served downtown Manzini and surrounding suburbs. New communities were being connected with the goal of replacing backyard septic tanks in town, but informal settlements where tens of thousands of residents live in squalid conditions without proper sanitation have not yet been connected.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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