Kenya is in the grip of an acute shortage of condoms amid rising cases of teenage pregnancy, HIV/Aids among the youth and resurgence of sexually transmitted illnesses.
Most public health facilities, hotels, offices and restaurants that the Nation visited have not had free condoms in their dispensers for the past one year.
Experts have blamed the shortage on heavy taxation of the commodity in a country where free condom programmes are mainly donor-funded.
The country needs 455 million condoms annually, but the government is able to provide only 1.6 million per month.
Last year, about 20 million condoms were distributed to Kenyans for free under a programme funded by the Global Fund and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The last time the government procured condoms was last year, exposing vulnerable groups such as teenagers, who cannot afford to buy the commodity, to the risk of unwanted pregnancies, HIV/Aids and STIs.
National AIDS and STIs Control Program (NASCOP) head Catherine Ngugi told the Nation that the country needs USD4.6 million (Sh460 million) to procure 1.3 million male condoms and 884, 210 female condoms, funding which mainly comes from donors.
The cost of producing one male condom is around USD 4.3 (Sh430) while that of producing a female condom USD 0.38 (Sh38).
“Even with donations from donors, we are nowhere near our target. We have not been able to meet our needs as a country. We are thinking of bringing other donors on board,” Dr Ngugi said.
The Nation established that there are no condoms at the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority warehouses.
At a stakeholders’ meeting on commodity security yesterday, Dr Ngugi underscored the need to address condom shortage because of the high number of teenage girls getting pregnant and the resurgence of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis.
Syphilis prevalence in teenagers has risen to 28 per cent, with the most affected counties also recording high HIV prevalence and incidence. This means that, on average, out of 10 girls in the said population, two are testing positive for syphilis.
“They are not getting condoms in their friendly clinics when they need them, and they are not able to buy them because they do not have the money. We are letting them down as a country. We really need to change this conversation,” she said.
Latest data from the National Aids Control Council indicates persons aged between 15 and 24 years have about four times HIV prevalence among females as compared to males.
The data further shows 61 per cent of all new HIV infections are being recorded among adolescents and young people in Kenya.
“We hope that with the engagement that we are having, we will be able to look at the past success, present priorities and future opportunities to ensure that we address the gaps,” Dr Ngugi added.
National Aids Control Council CEO Ruth Masha said an assessment they conducted revealed only 39.5 per cent women reported using condoms while the percentage of men stood at 70 per cent.
This means out of 10 women, only four were using condoms while seven out of 10 men were using the family planning commodity.
The average global usage is 40 condoms per man while in Kenya, the figure stands at 14 condoms per man per year.
“We are doing badly. We need to start a different conversation and normalise discussion on sex,” says Dr Masha.
“The reality is that these children are having sex. We need to give them comprehensive information and commodities. We must start having different conversations on how to pack the information and ensure we are ending pregnancy and HIV among adolescents,” she said.
Ms Lilian Langat, a program analyst for HIV and disability at
United Nations Population Fund termed the heavy taxes Kenya imposes on commodities provided by donors demoralising.
“There was a time that we had to reroute some commodities to neighbouring countries since they do not levy taxes on donations. The lengthy procurement processes is also another battle for the donors,” she said.
Ms Langat called on the government to provide resources for reproductive health commodities as donors were withdrawing.
“We have started working on a memorandum of understanding with partners to ensure that we grant tax waivers for donations coming from different stakeholders to curb the current stockout, ” Dr Ngugi said.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Country Director Samuel Kinyajui said the last shipment of condoms to the country was in 2019, blaming tax on donations for the crisis.
"But honestly, why do we levy tax commodities that are given to us for free? If we continue like this, we are going to have more problems because as a country we are not able to fund our health system. We should decide whether we want condoms or taxes because once the donors withdraw, then we are doomed," Dr Kinyajui said.
Dr Kinyajui said the demand for free condoms is so high that they can't keep up with it as a foundation.
National Empowerment Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS Executive Director Nelson Otwoma said he had received many complaints and requests from community health workers about the condoms.