Condoms Distributed in STI Prevention Effort Meet Federal, Industry Safety Standards, Washington, D.C., Health Officials Say
Tens of thousands of condoms that the Washington, D.C., Department of Health provided at no cost to residents have met federal and industry standards for packaging and manufacturing, city health officials said in a statement issued on Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. The statement was issued in response to a Post story that reported the condoms had been returned because of concerns about their packaging and safety (Levine, Washington Post, 9/6).
District health officials in February distributed 250,000 condoms as part of the health department's efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The first batch of condoms went to several not-for-profit organizations and community health providers. The department said it aimed to distribute one million condoms by the end of 2007. The condoms' purple and yellow package is printed in English and Spanish and carries the slogan, "We've got you covered. Coming together to stop HIV in D.C."
Concerns about the condoms arose almost immediately after the program began. Demand at two distribution sites established by not-for-profit organizations dropped by more than 80% shortly after the condoms were introduced. More than 2,000 packets were being distributed weekly in mid-March, but by late May, about 400 were being dispensed weekly. Volunteers said people complained about condom packets "ripping in purses or bursting open in pockets," and some recipients said they lacked confidence that the condoms would provide protection. In addition, the expiration dates on some of the condoms were illegible.
Officials at about six organizations that had been distributing the condoms said they received negative feedback from clients. Many clients said that the condoms' packaging seemed substandard. A coalition of not-for-profits returned about 100,000 condoms to the district, about 15% of what the city says has been distributed to groups.
Franck DeRose -- executive director of the Condom Project, which was involved with the distribution program -- said the not-for-profit groups tried to warn officials before sending back the condoms. Health department spokesperson Leila Abrar said in a previous statement, "To date, we have not received any substantive complaints." According to the statement, the district has distributed nearly 650,000 condoms since February through partnerships with 50 organizations. According to Abrar's statement, the city will hold a "contest for new versions" of its next condom package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5).
The health department on Wednesday said that district health officials are evaluating the effectiveness of the condom distribution program, "including feedback on the quality of the condoms and receptivity by clients" and that the results will help determine which condoms are purchased in the future (Washington Post, 9/6). District Health Director Gregg Pane said the department purchased the condoms "through a vendor who followed FDA standards," adding, "We have no credible reports from the manufacturer, the FDA or anyone else about performance, safety or quality issues." According to Pane, the health department will survey condom distribution partners to ensure they are storing and handling the packages correctly. He added that the condoms are safe and effective and that there are no problems with the packaging (AP/Yahoo! News, 9/5). Pane said, "We're committed to learning what works best for the district." Patricia Hawkins -- associate executive director at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a member of the coalition that returned condoms to the city -- said, "We may just have to wait for a new crop of condoms." Hawkins said that if the health department's next condom purchase is guided by research on its efficacy and marketing appeal, the program should be more successful. "The issue is, we want people to use them," Hawkins said (Washington Post, 9/5).