Monday, April 18, 2005

NACO script: Man, woman and "woh"

You want a condom but do not have the guts to ask for one. Ask for woh instead. That is the latest trick out of the hat of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as it switches to surrogate advertisement to boost condom usage in the country.

A survey by NACO in 2002 had found that the usage of condoms amongst the “target population”, which includes those exposed to a higher risk environment such as sex workers and truck drivers, was 49 per cent. “We would like that to go up to above 90 per cent,” said NS Dharamshaktu, Additional Project Director with NACO, who was here to attend INSAFCON 2005, a national meet on HIV/AIDS that concluded on Sunday. “We are going to use keywords like woh. So, you walk into a store and say, ek woh dena, and not ask for a condom,” he added.

Similarly, there are plans to use dipper for truck drivers instead of condom. The campaign is expected to begin soon but even Dharamshaktu acknowledged that just NACO cannot solve the problem given the stigma attached with a condom. At the meet, ICMR Director General NK Ganguly went on record in public saying he was shy enough not to buy a condom the first time. “Why cannot it be that ladies get a packet of condoms free with some product instead of buckets and soaps,” he asked.

But some feel that promoting condoms just as a tool for protection against sexually transmitted infections will not boost its usage much. “It is not going to happen till you brand it around disease prevention,” said Shivananda Khan, the Chief Executive of Naz Foundation International. “It has to be marketed as something that is fun, something that is driven around pleasure,” he added. Recently, efforts have been made to club the benefit of family planning with condoms and few upmarket brands, such as Kamasutra and Durex, use the “pleasure” tag. Research has even proved that a condom delays ejaculation.

NACO has doubled its condom distribution from 171 million pieces in 2003-2004 to 341 million in 2004-2005 and the focus is on gradually reducing the number of condoms distributed for free and increasing the number sold at nominal costs. “Even if one pays 25 paise for a condom, there are greater chances that he will use it than if he were to get it for free,” said IB Sareen, a consultant with NACO. The percentage of condoms sold under NACO’s schemes has increased from 30 per cent in 2003-04 to 50 per cent in 2004-05, he informed.

Beyond that comes the issue of addressing gender inequity in sexual relationships, said Bobby Ramakant, the South Asia Coordinator for AIDS Care Watch. “How many women do you think are empowered enough to demand that her male sexual partner puts on a condom and how many can actually refuse sex without protection,” he asked

One of my reports for Hindustan Times


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