Condom Week 2020: Improvements in the Quality of Our Favorite Contraception

February 20th, 2020 | Viewpoint


February 14th marked the beginning of National Condom Week, an annual campaign promoting condom access and use across the globe. In the United States alone, more than 450 million condoms are sold annually, and around the world that number balloons to around nine billion. Since the first documented use of a condom made from animal skin 13,000 years ago, condoms have been a critical tool for preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Prior to the introduction of oral contraceptive pills, condoms were the preferred birth control method in Western nations. By 1965, 43% of sexually active adults and 60% of married couples in the U.S. were using condoms, primarily as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The later 20th century brought major advances in manufacturing techniques, lowering the cost even further, and condoms became a staple of family planning programs throughout the developing world.

While the transition from animal skins to latex was a welcome change in material, perhaps the key development in condoms over the years was the increased focus on quality control, due largely in part to the HIV epidemic. Condoms were no longer just for preventing unwanted pregnancies; they became the difference between life and death from HIV. The FDA, WHO, UNFPA, and other public health organizations revisited quality-control protocols, testing for leaking, breakage, safety, and overall effectiveness.

Thanks to the global condom supply chains that JSI operated for major funders, we were able to provide naturally aged condoms from various locations in the developing world for comparison with artificially aged condoms that were used in quality control testing. This helped to ensure that the aging practices were calibrated properly and that tests produced accurate results. These quality assurance laboratory testing data were used to develop condoms and packaging that could better withstand real-world, last-mile conditions. Today, with correct and consistent use, condoms are 97% effective in preventing HIV, making them a critical element of high-impact HIV prevention programs.

Centuries of progress in condom quality have transformed them into a comprehensive, effective, and sustainable approach to both HIV prevention and family planning. Here at JSI, we continue to support global and national efforts to increase condom access and use—and celebrate National Condom Week. We have provided training and implemented condom-focused programming in every corner of the world, including Nigeria, Uganda, New York, and Egypt, reaching men, women, and adolescents, wherever they live.

Written by Maalana Hislop

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