- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The news last week that hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made condoms from the District’s distribution program were wrapped in flimsy paper was a frightening reminder that the District’s HIV/AIDS epidemic isn’t being fully addressed. Mayor Adrian Fenty said that fighting HIV/AIDS was his administration’s “number one priority.” If that remains a point of fact, there are employees who must be held accountable.

In March, the D.C. Health Department’s HIV/AIDS Administration (HAA) donated 300,000 condoms to a grass-roots distribution program called LIFE GUARD as part of its “One Million Ways to Stop HIV in D.C.” campaign. The goal was to distribute 1 million condoms throughout the city this year. Prior to the partnership, more than 2,000 Life Style and Crown condoms were being scooped up in LIFE GUARD packs each week. By mid-April, a mere five weeks after switching to the DOH-provided condoms, those numbers dropped to only 400 per week.

According to a letter from Franck DeRose — executive director of the Condom Project, part of the LIFE GUARD coalition — to HAA officials, the reason was the delicate paper wrappers had ineligible expiration dates and were puncturing easily, leaving people skeptical of their effectiveness. Health officials assured residents that the condoms are completely safe and meet all Food and Drug Administration and American Society for Testing and Materials standards.

News reports put the number of returned condoms at 100,000. However, the mayor’s office and health officials put it at 60,000. A spokesman for Mr. Fenty said yesterday: “All but 4,000 of those returned condoms (93 percent) have been redistributed as there were absolutely no specific reports of safety concerns with these condoms.”

Regardless of quantity and quality, HIV/AIDS is not a public relations issue; it is a public health issue. With 1-in-20 D.C. residents infected with the virus, the Fenty administration faces a reckoning with his own policy. Instead of merely “blanketing the city” with condoms, the mayor needs to stare down the enemy within — and it’s called incompetency.

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