Condoms are a frequent subject in Cuba, for better or worse.
Year after year the eroticism of Caribbean people and the myths related to the use of condoms even in cooking (it is said that during the Special Period some sellers used it as cheese for their pizzas), turn this contraceptive method (and everything about it) into one of the “hottest” and “slippery” topics among the youngest.
It also turns into a complex situation in bedrooms, homes, schools, parks and dark corners of the country when there are rumors out –like now—on its shortage in some centric pharmacies.
This time, the issue emerged by the end of March, from the Western Congri blog when journalist Ariel Montenegro denounced by means of a pseudo report on its shortage. He entitled it the lack of condoms in some pharmacies in Havana and Matanzas provinces. This is how he put it with a provocative sense of humor:
«A couple days ago, after an exhausting first round, I ran out of condoms and we were hungry. We went out looking for condoms and bread, and the only thing we got was heat. (…) Next day we travelled a considerable part of Vedado and we found what we were looking for only in the central pharmacy of the municipality, though they only had extra strong, which come in packs of two, instead of the usual pack of three. (…) The situation was similar even in Matanzas, where I spent that weekend».
In Cuba, condoms are sold in packages of three and cost one Cuban peso. Some of the brands sold are: Vigor, Vigor Max (which is a package of two condoms and includes a lubricant) and Momentos. The prices of all of them have been subsidized by the State.
But let’s go back to the shortage. Two days after the “Pseudo report”, the Trabajadores newspaper published some information by its correspondent in the eastern province of Santiago the Cuba explaining that the shortage of condoms is a “worrying concern for many people, among other reasons, due to the considerable incidence in the province of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/aids in particular, an epidemic that affects more than a thousand in Santiago and continues on the increase”. Santiago de Cuba is one of the most populated provinces in the country and monthly they consume about 1 440 condom packs of three.
About a week later, on April 3, the weekly newspaper Vanguardia, from the central province of Villa Clara, published an article reiterating the shortage of the most popular contraceptive. Early in 2014, this province registered an increase of diseases like syphilis; though STDs in general showed a slight decrease according to Berta Pérez de Alejo, an official from the statistics department of the Provincial Health Direction.
If rumor has it…
In fact, pharmacies are not well supplied with condoms.
Two local authorities from the Medical Supplies Enterprise (EMSUME by its acronym in Spanish), which sells condoms to the Medical Supplies Commercializing Enterprise(EMCOMED by its acronym in Spanish), which sells them to gastronomic services and Popular Campings, confirmed it to the press in Santiago and Villa Clara. Yet, the reason of the shortage is not convincing at all.
This is the official explanation given by Juan Carlos González Rojas, director of EMSUME in Villa Clara: we are changing the expiration date of November 2012 “for problems with the expiration term” to the Momentos brand in store.
Gonzalez noted that a letter issued on July 9, 2012, the Public Health Ministry authorized to change the expiration date for December 2014 because condoms can be used five years after their production and the manufacturer, which is the Chinese company Tianjin Human Care, agreed to that.
It’s been a year already it isn’t done yet. Why?
The director of ENSUME pointed out that they don’t have the necessary labor force for retagging and they only manage to pack 1 440 packages of three condoms per day and the demand in the province is more than 150 000 per month and there are still more than one million left to be retagged.
For now, we just have to wait and see if, as one of the people interviewed said, the situation goes back to normal by the second quarter of the year, which is now, and 72,2 per cent of the population from 12 to 49 years old –which wear condoms according to studies on sexual behavior—can enjoy sex peacefully.
Sex and more in numbers
Last January, during a panel organized by the Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality (Socumes by its acronym in Spanish), Dr. Jaquelyn Sánchez Fuentes, from the National Center for the Prevention of STDs and HIV/aids, explained that the largest prevalence of people living with HIV in Cuba ranges from 20 to 29 years old.
According to the last survey on prevention from getting HIV/aids, made in 2011 by the Center of Studies on the Population and Development by the National Statistics and Information Office (ONEI by its acronym in Spanish), sexual relations in Cuba begin in the midst of adolescence, between 15 and 16 years of age, most of them unprotected. As norm, the first sexual relations do not happen within marriage or conjugal relations.
2,4 per centof men and 12,2 per centof women under the age of 20 affirm to have had this kind of relation when they “lost their virginity”, which puts them in higher risk of getting STDs and HIV, especially if taking into account that 34,1 per cent of them had unprotected sex their first time.
At the age of 20 only five per cent of the population surveyed throughout the country hadn’t had sexual intercourse with penetration, and it is rare to find such cases after 24.
The results of the survey carried out by ONEI, but in 2009, revealed that sex with occasional partners is more frequent between men than women (32,1% vs. 9,8% respectively), but they are more prone to wearing protection.
Similar studies were also carried out in 2006 (when the number of people that had an early initiation was higher), 2995 and 2001.
Condoms in the news
Considering statistics, it isn’t odd that condoms get the attention of so many people at the same time. Sexual practices in Cuba cause that, every once in a while, condoms hit the news.
It occurred during the 90’s –though it didn’t got to the headlines—when the population developed a whole philosophyon the use of condoms which included it in fishing;as balloons in birthday parties; as elastic bands for tiding up money, vouchers or other documents; or just for tiding up hair.
They were even used as pulleys for tape recorders’ motor, for entering alcohol in night clubs, mending a pair of flip-flops, mending flat tires and making bounce balls.
It became more relevant when in 2001 the National Center for the Prevention of STDs, HIV and AIDS implemented the so-called “condom line” and in 2007 it hit the headlines in the Juventud Rebelde newspaper when Cuba premiered a condom brand of its own: Vigor.
Vigor was designed by Cuban marketing and advertising specialists with the purpose of replacing the brand Vives which came to Cuba through the US NGO Population Services International (PSI), which the US Department of Treasury banned from continuing its project in Cuba. Its commercialization began in Matanzas, about 100 kilometers from Havana.
Early 2013, condoms showed up in the news again as a result of the article “What’s going on with condoms?”published in the Juventud Rebelde newspaper with protests by Emily Jiménez, from Santa Clara, and Julio César Domínguez, from Holguín, who wrote about its shortages in their local pharmacies.
The answer by the Ministry of Public Health at that moment was that condoms were sold at 15 cents, with brands Twinlotus and Love Guard, was running out in the country and were being replaced by other brands of higher quality and with higher acceptance among the population.
They also explained that the monthly consumption of condoms in Cuba is 3,4 million, a demand that wasn’t met because they were retagging the expiration date of the product in the National Union of Light Industries (UNIL by its acronym in Spanish).
They noted that the retagging process wasn’t being developed at the expected rate and the enterprise didn’t search for other alternatives nor acted with the necessary speed.
Nowadays, one year after, the population is suffering from slowness that puts their health at risk.