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Mozambique: Condom mythology

November 20, 2007
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" will appear.

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 Radio.

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 Development Index.

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 condom."

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."



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