South Africa is well-known for its status as a trouble spot for HIV/AIDS, and the government and non-profit groups have addressed the problem by making condoms widely available. Now the South African government is recalling over 1.35 million condoms that were given out at a African National Congress celebration in early January after users contacted officials in a panic. They claimed that the condoms they were given were porous or broke during intercourse.

AIDS activist Sello Mokhalipi of the Treatment Action Campaign perfomed unofficial tests on the condoms himself. From The Washington Post:

“We poured water into the condoms and they were leaking, not just in one place, they were leaking like a sieve,” he said. Looking at them, “you can see there are small pores.” He said the health department had distributed a new batch of condoms last week, which did not leak under the water test. Health department spokesman [Jabu] Mbalula said pouring water into a condom and applying pressure was not a proper test, though Mokhalipi denied applying pressure.

No matter what the specific weak spots, South Africa has the worlds highest AIDS infection rate at 5.6 million people, and there is no way to fully recall the condoms aside from putting the word out there and hoping for the best. The country also recalled batches of millions of condoms in 2007 and 2008, and many are worried that these mistakes will affect the willingness of people to take advantage of free condoms at all. South Africa’s HIV prevention needs are different from those of most countries — for example in the US, where we aren’t sure of our partners’ status and use condoms to take away the risk of guessing. In South Africa the infection rate is high enough that people with HIV depend on condoms to avoid infecting their un-infected partners, meaning that millions of defective condoms spread all over the country is a near-disaster.

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