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Can condoms fulfil multiple expectations?

Millions of condoms will be distributed in Afghanistan in 2008.
(Feroz Noman/IRIN)

Millions of condoms will be distributed across Afghanistan in 2008 in a new drive to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, reduce maternal mortality and improve family planning, aid agencies and the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said.

Millions of condoms have been purchased and imported into Afghanistan by international aid organisations and will be offered either free or at an affordable price (around 2 US cents) to Afghan couples through thousands of health facilities, private pharmacies and general stores.

The MoPH said it had received about three million condoms from donor organisations, including the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), all of which will be distributed for free in 2008.

Marie Stopes International (MSI), a UK-based organisation dealing with family planning, said it would offer 2.5 million condoms at subsidised prices in local markets.

“The attitude of many Afghans is changing,” Farhad Javid, the MSI programme director in Kabul, told IRIN. “And condom usage has been increasing,” he said, adding that there was still a need to boost public awareness in order to increase condom demand.

“We are promoting condom usage to achieve a number of public health targets,” said Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman of the MoPH.

Several positive points

The condom has found its way into conservative Afghanistan over the past six years. The number of users has risen sharply in urban areas, say officials. During Taliban rule, and indeed before that, the subject of condoms and sex was widely considered taboo and rarely discussed in public.

''...it controls sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, it can be used as a contraceptive, and it is safe.''

“There are several positive points about a condom; it controls sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, it can be used as a contraceptive, and it is safe,” said Fahim.

The exact number of Afghans living with HIV/AIDS is unknown, but MoPH estimates at least 3,000 people might have been infected by the virus. Most are undiagnosed and lack adequate awareness about the risks of HIV/AIDS.

Health specialists said Afghanistan could have an effective HIV/AIDS control policy if it effectively promoted the use of condoms.

Reducing maternal mortality

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least two women die every hour in Afghanistan due to obstetric-and-pregnancy-related complications – 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births – which places the war-torn country second to Sierra Leone in terms of its maternal mortality rate.

Lack of access to health services, malnourishment, early marriages and multiple pregnancies are the main reasons for Afghanistan’s high maternal mortality rate, according to MoPH.


Photo: Parwin Faiz/IRIN
Multiple pregnancies without breaks is a major cause of maternal mortality in Afghanistan, health official say

“If we ensure at least a two-year gap between pregnancies we will definitely reduce maternal mortality,” Hamida Ebadi, director of the Safe Motherhood Department in the MoPH, told IRIN, adding that condoms could be an “effective” and “reliable” contraceptive.

“It’s also in line with Islamic principles that a mother should have a gap between pregnancies,” she said.

In addition to condoms, the MoPH and aid agencies provide other contraceptives, including pills, injections and intrauterine devices, in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies and mitigate health risks.

Condoms are also considered a very important tool for family planning and population growth control, Javid of MSI said. The average Afghan woman has 7-8 pregnancies (a fertility rate of 7.11) and most females marry before the age of 18, aid agencies estimate.

“Should the current 3.5 percent annual population growth rate continue Afghanistan will have over 65 million people by 2050,” Javid said.

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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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