An interesting piece on the National Centre for Biotechnology Information website notes that ancient Romans “used the bladders of animals to protect women” and that condoms back then were not necessarily used to prevent pregnancy but rather to halt the “contraction of venereal diseases”.
The invention of the condom dates to the mid-1800s and has been attributed to Charles Goodyear described as an American self-taught chemist and manufacturing engineer who used the vulcanisation method to transform rubber into pliable structures to produce the latex product. But either way, the rationale behind the condom was for preventative measures.
The latter applies to the 21st century as the world continues to advocate for the use of the polyurethane or polyisoprene products as means of eradicating HIV/Aids.
But what does one do when such an important item is suddenly reduced to a mere toy for kids in impoverished communities?
The other day a friend and I, while conducting research, walked through an open field in Rietvlei, Krugersdorp, west of Joburg.
We came across several pieces, if not hundreds, of torn and discarded condoms.
The latex bits came in different colours. It is as though we mistakenly stumbled across a minefield of condoms.
What was evident is that none of these condoms looked used. At that point, my friend recalled how in the same area a meeting was held by residents who, like us, sought to find out where these came from and how their pollution can be stopped.
From that meeting it emerged that while condoms were distributed by health fieldworkers and placed in local facilities - such as salons, barbers, tuck shops - for adults to easily access them, they were ending up in the wrong hands, children’s hands.
The young ones, it seemed, were using them as balloons. They would also fill them up with water and use them as water bombs in full view of everyone.
For a country with the highest HIV prevalence in the world, this is concerning.
Sustainable Development Goal 3 calls for countries to promote good health and well-being by 2030. This call speaks to the health services given to those within our societies.
Condoms are a part of this call.
In its fifth national report on HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey, the Human Sciences Research Council noted that while the rate of HIV infections in the country had decreased, data showed that condom usage was also on the decline.
It noted that people having sex before they turned 15 (which in our country this number translates to them being minors) was also on the rise. This too is worrisome.
More troubling is that we are meant to be a society that protects the future generation from further infections and yet it is the same generation who instead of learning about the prevalence of the epidemic, appears to know very little about the significance of condoms or the item they now use as toys.
We could blame the Department of Health for not being rigorous in its training of community health workers who distribute the condoms at various community centres. We could blame community members, parents and shop owners for not being on a high alert and for failing to stop children from accessing these condoms.
But, playing the blame game won’t assist us much.
We ought to find ways in which we can tackle the issue of condom distribution more effectively and ensure that next time it reaches the right hands.
* Mokati is the group development content editor at Independent Media