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BENGALURU: Anonymity helps. In a country where social stigma has kept condom use to just 5 per cent of the contraceptive market, Indians ordered 10 lakh in just 69 days since the opening of Free Condom Store.
Data from the online store, which was launched on April 28 by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, shows that of the 9.56 lakh condoms they delivered free, 5.14 lakh were requested by communities and NGOs, while the remaining (4.41 lakh) were ordered by individuals. Demand from individuals was seen most in Delhi and Karnataka.
The foundation has partnered with state-run Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL), which makes a special brand of condoms for them. Dr V Sam Prasad, the foundation’s India programme director, told TOI that they were surprised by the response. “We thought the stock of 10 lakh condoms would suffice until December but we ran out by the first week of July. We have ordered another 20 lakh which we will receive in the last week of November and orders for another 50 lakh have been placed for January.”
Experts say the huge response for the online store can be attributed to the fact that most Indians want to avoid the embarrassment of walking into a store and asking for a product linked to sex. “That the delivery person does not know what’s in the package, and those who take the order don’t see the person placing the order does away with the awkwardness otherwise associated with the purchase or taking it from a volunteer,” says one expert.
The contraceptive industry too agrees that stigma is still an issue in India. A spokesperson from Reckitt Benckiser, makers of Durex, said: “The sexual wellness category faces different challenges in different cultures. A developed market like UK has condom category penetration of 30 per cent while in India that number is only 5 per cent. The biggest challenge in India is the taboo around sex, which presents a barrier to creating awareness or even physical access.”
Multiple firms have been launching innovative awareness campaigns, even rebranding and redesigning packages. The Centre and various state governments also have schemes to promote condom use.
It is arguably the cheapest way to plan a family, and the only one that also protects people from sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Yet, the latest National Family Health Survey shows that only 5.6 per cent of those surveyed used condoms for birth control, an increase of 0.4 per cent from the previous survey. Even in a progressive state like Karnataka, only 1.7 per cent use condoms. The number is 3.6 per cent in Bengaluru, which compares poorly with Kolkata (19 per cent) or Delhi (10 per cent).
Nationally, only 54 per cent of women and 77 per cent men showed awareness about the condom and its uses in preventing STD.
While the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) data shows increase in condom usage among sex workers and other high-risk groups, the organisation observes that there’s still a long way to go. It estimates the annual sale of condoms at around 200 to 220 crore pieces.