No condom is subsidized by the government, and young people, massively unemployed, practice “flèch kann.” The risks are considerable
In the early 2000s, condoms such as Kapòt Pantè were subsidized by the Haitian government. This is no longer the case today. Only condoms distributed in health centers and institutions such as FOSREF, which works on sexual and reproductive health, still receive international subsidies.
Since the end of the public subsidy, the price of condoms has been rising for years. This leads sexually active people to go without it, despite the risks they may run. On the other hand, it seems that the sexual habits of young people have changed significantly. These changes are not accompanied by awareness campaigns on the importance of protection methods against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Rebecca Charles works six days a week at a supermarket in Port-au-Prince. Although the condom aisle is well stocked with different brands and styles, customers are not flocking to the store. The cashier is troubled by the issue, even more, because most of the customers are old enough to have sex. Even Charles’ boyfriend is reluctant when it comes to protecting himself.
Jean Abioud Sylvain, HIV care and treatment coordinator at FOSREF, says he has seen a decline in interest in condoms. He tries to explain why people, sometimes HIV-positive, have dropped the use of condoms from their practices.
“In the case of HIV-positive people, which FOSREF deals with, below a certain level, the number of HIV-affected cells can make it difficult to transmit the virus. So, patients who know their number of affected cells can stop using it,” he explains.
Another reason given for not using a condom is that it alters the sensation of pleasure. This is what Michel Jackson believes, a student at Haiti State University who is also an English and mathematics teacher. He admits that he sometimes uses condoms reluctantly. According to him, access to pornography is one of the reasons, as it often features people without condoms.
The use of products that are supposed to maximize sexual performance is another cause. Products such as “Sapatann” sometimes require skipping the condom, says Michel Jackson.
“Some people nowadays just put it on during anal sex. There are also practices of putting small objects in the glans of the penis to maximize its performance,” Jackson continues.
On the other hand, it is mostly men who are involved in buying condoms, which may also be a reason for reluctance.
According to Myriam Charlemagne, who worked as a prevention officer at the State University Hospital of Haiti, after testing and follow-up, the most reliable way to protect yourself from HIV is to use a condom. She regrets that women are not more involved in the decision to use one.
The excuses for getting rid of the condom is also to do with the financial aspect of the matter. Getting a condom, depending on the brand, can be expensive. “When you buy a package for 600 gourdes, while it contains only two condoms, it makes you think,” says Michel Jackson.
Global inflation also affects this imported product, like all others. Even if they are available everywhere, the price of condoms sometimes makes people cringe. But, as Jean Abioud Sylvain recalls, condoms have not always been such an expensive product in the country.
There is also the prestige that some attribute to the use of condoms that are not subsidized by international institutions, and which therefore cost more. “Some are scented, and some contain products that affect sexual performance,” Jackson says.
In fact, other reasons may also explain why more and more people are avoiding condoms. Most condoms are made of latex, a natural rubber that can cause burning, itching, and other discomforts. Some women may be allergic to them.
Samuela Jean Pierre, a fourth-year medical student, points out that although the symptoms of a latex allergy may look like an infection, this is not the case. Stopping the use of a latex condom usually makes the symptoms go away. But they can get worse, if the woman has an infection of any kind, without knowing it.
Since its invention in 1735, the condom has helped in the fight against STIs, including HIV-AIDS. The United Nations Population Fund is one of the international organizations that subsidize it. Hospitals in Haiti often distribute them. In addition to helping in the fight against disease, condoms are an effective way to prevent unwanted or early pregnancies.
According to a UNAIDS report, for the year 2018, 160,000 people were living with HIV in Haiti. The rate of prevalence between the ages of 15 and 49 was 2%, and adult women represented 58% of the infected population. These numbers are alarming, despite considerable efforts in the fight against the disease.
According to the 2012 Morbidity, Mortality, and Service Utilization Survey, the proportion of more or less sexually active adolescents, with a risk of becoming pregnant, increases rapidly with age. It increases from 3% at age 15 to 31% at age 19. By this age, 28% of girls have already had at least one child.
Since abortion is a crime in Haiti, in addition to the danger of STIs, awareness campaigns encouraging the use of condoms should be a priority for the Ministry of Public Health and Population in the same way as Covid-19, according to Myriam Charlemagne.
English translation by Didenique Jocelyn.