Home / Politics / Policy /  Shortage of condoms hits govt’s AIDS prevention programme

New Delhi: A nationwide shortage of government-supplied condoms has affected two key programmes of the health ministry—human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention and family planning. What compounds matters is the size of funds needed to address the shortage.

According to health ministry documents reviewed by Mint, the family planning programme is short by 55 crore while the National AIDS Control Organization (Naco) needs 20 crore to place orders for condoms.

Union health secretary B.P. Sharma chaired an emergency review meeting last week and one of the solutions discussed was to “divert money from other programmes to address the condom shortage", said a senior health ministry official who did not want to be named.

Despite several attempts, the health secretary could not be reached for comment. A mail sent to Sharma on 7 May remained unanswered.

The last batch of condoms came in March 2015 and since then, the health ministry has been trying to raise funds to keep the supply chain uninterrupted.

So far, reports of condom shortage have come from north-eastern states, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. “This has been going on for more than a year now and we have reports from across the nation, especially north-eastern states," said Vikas Ahuja, Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an advocacy group for HIV+ people.

“If the epidemic has to be curtailed, treatment and prevention are the two aspects that need to work in perfect harmony. Right now, the government is barely giving some drugs for treatment and a majority of prevention activities have been stopped due to budgetary constraints. These decisions have derailed AIDS programmes and the momentum that was built over the past two decades in curtailing the epidemic faces a severe setback," added Ahuja.

The cash-strapped health ministry is yet to make payments to Hindustan Latex Ltd (HLL) for last year’s supply of condoms worth 80 crore.

Experts warned that the drive to prevent AIDS had come under threat from the shortage of free condoms. “The health ministry is short of 75-80 crore for its critical programmes. This is petty cash when you take into account the fact this is a national programme," said Leena Menghaney, HIV/AIDS activist and lawyer. “This government has slashed the budget and now it has run out of money to buy one of the most basic prevention tools for HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections. Condoms are among the front-line prevention tools we have. What is the point of counselling people to have safe sex if we can’t provide condoms—it is a pointless exercise," she added.

The government supplies condoms through its social marketing programmes to reach high-risk groups like commercial sex workers and men who have sex with men. The other mode of condom distribution is free supply at counselling centres and hospitals.

“These social marketing programmes by the government expand or contract depending on the government’s priorities. What we do know now is that in 2013-14, the ministry was running a much larger programme across 21 states in the country," said Preeti Kumar, director of the HIV/AIDS programme at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

“There is no doubt that there has been a break in the procurement cycle, but a lot of this is also because the state governments are not releasing money from their coffers for health-related activities," she added.

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