The Indian city of Mumbai has been recently and mysteriously hit with an onslaught of condom thefts. Resisting the urge to chuckle at this moment may not be easy, but please consider doing so, because AIDS and HIV-prevention activists fear that these thefts could adversely affect the sexual health of the city’s residents.
Criminals have broken into more than 500 of the 3,000 condom vending machines installed in Mumbai as part of an HIV-Aids prevention program.
Officials feel motives may vary; some say it’s for fun, others for small change and still others feel the motive is to get free condoms. Whatever be the case, the Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trusts (HLFPPT), who provide the vending machines in conjunction with other organizations, are highly concerned.
The Indian state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai (Bombay) is the capital, has one of the highest numbers of HIV infected people.
“These machines are installed in areas where high risk people like truck drivers are likely to visit. Often these places also have drug addicts or petty thieves… When a machine is damaged, then you have to factor how many people would go without a condom. One of the guidelines is that a person should be able to procure one within 15 minutes. It is not easy to get people to use to condoms and take them from these machines,” says Rajesh Nainakwal of HLFPP.
The damage to hundreds of the more than 3,000 machines, which are usually loaded with 20 packs of condoms each, goes beyond financial loss, although the dynamo in the machines fetch good prices in the “grey” markets. They are always needed in slot machines in video parlors.
Many officials have expressed concern over what they believe is police apathy. No action has been taken against the vandals whom police believe are drunks and drug addicts. Social workers are advocating a shift of relocation for these machines to safer areas like hospitals or washrooms and 24×7 manned toilets.
The theft of condoms may be strange, but it is no laughing matter in a country laden with the HIV virus and full blown AIDS.