Officials in Dallas County, Texas, Lift Condom Distribution Ban
In a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Commissioners Court in Dallas County, Texas, lifted a 13-year-old ban on condom distribution, authorizing the county health department to distribute no-cost condoms in an effort to curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, the Dallas Morning News reports (Levinthal, Dallas Morning News, 1/14). According to state officials, Dallas County had the highest HIV prevalence in Texas in 2007 and 2006, which caused concern among some officials about the effects of the condom ban in the county. The Commissioners Court in 1995 passed regulations banning the distribution of condoms and needle sterilization kits to at-risk people in local communities, saying these practices encouraged illegal and immoral behavior. Under the ban, Dallas County was the only public health agency in Texas to ban condoms in education and prevention programs (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/23/08).
Steve Griggs -- executive assistant to Judge Jim Foster, one of the county commissioners who voted to lift the ban -- said that the new policy will take immediate effect and that the state will cover the cost of the condoms. According to the Morning News, the county's Department of Health and Human Services will focus on high-risk groups, as it had done before the ban was enacted in 1995. Foster said, "What we want to address is prevention," adding, "An obstacle to doing that has been removed." Zachary Thompson, the county's health department director, said the department "can distribute wherever [it] want[s] to" but that it will "focus" on "high-risk areas," defined as those Dallas County ZIP codes with high HIV/AIDS rates. He added that the county will provide counseling and testing services in addition to no-cost condoms.
Before the vote on the new policy, Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield offered a substitute order that would have prevented county health officials from distributing condoms in public schools; however, the order failed to pass. Mayfield said, "I don't believe it is appropriate to just go into schools and hand out condoms," adding that otherwise he is in favor of the new policy. In terms of school distribution, Thompson said that officials will distribute where they "are asked to go" and that school leaders will choose whether to allow distribution. He added, "We want to work with any school district if they want to discuss procedure and policy with us" (Dallas Morning News, 1/14).
Related Opinion Piece
Although the ban was "well-intentioned," the "condom clampdown hasn't worked here," columnist James Ragland writes in a Morning News opinion piece. He continues, "Dallas County has suffered the consequences of its highly principled, yet impractical, policy."
Ragland notes that Dallas County had the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence statewide in 2006 and 2007, adding that more than 13,500 people are living with the disease in the county -- a 35% increase in the number of HIV-positive people over the last five years. According to Ragland, new cases among people ages 13 to 24 have "nearly tripled over the last five years." He writes that it is "clear that we can no longer rest on the noble notion that faithful and consistent proselytizing alone will lead Dallas -- or the nation, for that matter -- out of this darkness. We need more practical tools." He continues, "[C]hanging deep-rooted behaviors -- an ongoing, epic battle whose end is nowhere in sight -- is only part of the solution to this health crisis." It is "vitally incumbent" that health officials do what they can to control the spread of HIV, a disease "that poses a very tangible threat," he writes. Ragland adds, "Dallas County officials took an important step in that direction" by lifting the ban (Ragland, Dallas Morning News, 1/13).