Washington, D.C. To Install Free Condom Dispensers in Government Offices, Health Officials Announce
Health officials from the District of Columbia -- which has the country's highest AIDS prevalence -- on Monday, which was World AIDS Day, announced that they plan to distribute free condoms in dispensers to be installed in select government offices, the Washington Post reports. Health officials hope to install more than 50 dispensers in offices frequented by D.C. residents, including the D.C. Housing Authority and the departments of Human Services, Motor Vehicles and Public Works. Officials also plan to distribute 550,000 male condoms, 45,000 latex dental dams and 30,000 female condoms over the next 12 months, the Post reports. Condom dispensers are "going to be as common as water fountains," Ivan Torres, interim director of the city's HIV/AIDS Administration, said, adding, "The mayor is committed to this. ... This is no longer something to be ashamed of. It affects all of us." In addition, the city plans to expand a program through which it distributes free condoms at beauty salons, barber shops and nightclubs. About 8,000 people in the district have AIDS, and officials estimate that another 14,000 district residents are HIV-positive, the majority of whom are not aware that they have the virus, according to the Post.
Tom Coburn, co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS, said that the dispenser program is "misguided," adding that he believes that condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission 20% of the time. "The city would be much better off spending its money getting people tested, treated and counseled not to give the virus to others," Coburn said. Robert Rector, a family issues researcher at the Heritage Foundation, said, "I'm not aware of any evidence that [condom distribution] has a positive effect," adding, "The number one determinant of whether a person will catch a sexually transmitted disease is the number of lifetime sexual partners. We seem to go out of our way as a government and a nation to avoid telling people that, but we hand out a lot of free condoms." Torres said that although sexual abstinence is the most effective means of preventing HIV, "we have to deal with the reality as public health professionals and can't deal with ideological platitudes. Some people do not choose abstinence." Sandy Allen, chair of the D.C. City Council's human services committee, said, "We've got a lot of people dying in this town. We have to err on the side of safety" (Goldstein, Washington Post, 12/2).