NAMPULA, 20 November 2007 (PlusNews) - In the city of Nampula in
northern Mozambique, Custodio (last name withheld), 25, who earns
his living as a hawker, believes he can prove that condoms
contain the HI virus: all you have to do is put one in a
container with water and a few hours later "several little bugs"
The myth that HIV comes from prophylactics is not new in
Mozambique, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, but
it recently led to international repercussions after Catholic
Archbishop Dom Francisco Chimoio aired his views in Maputo.
"Condoms are not safe, because I know of two countries in Europe
that produce condoms with HIV, with the intention of finishing
off the population of Africa," the bishop told Britain's BBC
In response, the representative of the World Health Organisation
in Mozambique and the country's health ministry made public
statements clarifying the fact that the virus can only survive
for a matter of minutes at room temperature, and challenged the
archbishop to prove what he had said.
Aversion to condoms
Condom use is still not part of the average Mozambican's sex life
- although high-risk sex is. Mozambique has a seroprevalence of
16.2 percent for a total population of 19.8 million.
The 2003 Demographic and Health survey showed that 8 out of every
10 men between the ages of 15 and 49 in the city and province of
Maputo, in the south of the country, and 5 out of every 10 in the
northern provinces of Nampula and Niassa had had high-risk sex in
the past twelve months.
For Adventino Pinto Soares, who owns a traveller's lodge on the
highway linking the district of Namialo to Nampula city, myths
about condoms even influence his sales. "Almost all of the
condoms I sell here are to foreign guests. Mozambicans rarely buy
them. I don't think they trust the product," he said.
Condoms are distributed free of charge by many organisations and
in public hospitals, and are also sold in packets of three by
pharmacies, hotels and markets at prices varying from US$0.30 to
$0.50, but this can be prohibitively expensive in a country where
some 40 percent of the population lives on less than one US
dollar a day, according to the 2006 United Nations Human
Explaining the obvious
Argentina Novela has been working as a physician in the public
health system in Nampula for 10 years, and said she had often
been asked about HIV in condoms. "It's obvious it's not there.
The so-called HIV bugs, as they call them, could come from the
water itself, or bits of the lubricant that have come off of the
In the case of mosquitoes on condoms, Simone Martins, a
consultant working with ForAll, a social marketing organisation
promoting condom use, explained that the lubricants were
silicone-based, which attracted the insects.
Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing
organisation helping the government promote condom use, has more
than 100 agents working in the country to dispel these myths,
said Valeriana Rufino, coordinator of 100% Vida (100% Life, in
Portuguese), a project working with sex workers.
According to Rufino, Bishop Chimoio's utterances prompted a
number of sex workers to seek out PSI. "We told them that this is
not true, and that condoms must continue to be used."
Arantza Menaca, an anthropologist working with Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF)-Switzerland in Niassa Province, said many
Africans saw AIDS as a new disease brought by foreigners, who
were now distributing medication that did not cure the illness.
The money being spent on anti-AIDS campaigns, and the fact that
HIV/AIDS is associated with sex also arouses distrust and has led
to the emergence of myths, like: HIV comes from condoms; condoms
can be lost in women's vaginas; condoms don't help because the
virus passes through the pores of the material.
In Maputo, economics student Julio Monteiro Cabaco, 23, gets
angry whenever he hears one of the condom myths, but just five
years ago he also believed that condoms contained HIV, as some
Europeans are intent on decimating Africa.
After losing friends to AIDS-related illnesses, Cabaco began
working with AIDS organisations. "I realised it was all just a
legend. It's a good thing I woke up in time, or else I would have
been one more to contract the disease."