Students And Youth Working on the reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT) joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Condom Day celebrated on the 13th of February each year. This day is strategic in that it presents a unique opportunity to remind and implore young people to practice safe sex by using condoms not only during the valentine’s period but all the time when being intimate with their partners.
The 2023 International Condom Day is commemorated under the theme: “Yours, Mine and Ours.” This is an expression of love in which partners have a shared responsibility to practice safe sex all the time so that they protect themselves from contracting a cocktail of potential Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS.
The AIDS and Healthcare Foundation (AHF) launched the International Condom Day on 13 February 2009 as an innovative and light-hearted way to remind people that wearing a condom can prevent unwanted pregnancies and a range of STIs such as HIV. Observing the International Condom Day on the eve of the Valentine’s Day has been strategic since it is the period where majority of intimate partners across the globe spend time together as a way of showing love hence the day is strategic to raise awareness of condom use especially to young people.
The SAYWHAT family takes this opportunity to re-emphasise the effectiveness of both male and female condoms in providing dual protection from unwanted pregnancies and STIs. The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintains that when condoms are used correctly and consistently they are highly effective in the prevention of HIV and AIDS among other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
The government of Zimbabwe particularly through the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary education innovation Science and Technology Development equally have a responsibility to ensure that condoms are easily accessible and that they are always available at strategic and convenient places in communities and at higher learning institutions. This applies to other Southern African governments and their respective ministries who are still lagging in providing sufficient condoms to young people at strategic and convenient places.
The spiking cases of drug and substance abuse amongst young people and students pose a huge barrier in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS as well as other STIs. Drug and substance abuse victims often indulge in unprotected sexual activities as their health choices are poor due to intellectual impairment.
We have observed over the years that the absence of comprehensive sexuality education in schools is also a limitation on young people’s quest for health knowledge and information. It is high time the education sector in Zimbabwe invest in comprehensive sexuality education with a slant towards condom use as a globally accepted HIV and AIDS prevention contraceptive.
Religious and cultural institutions are expected to encourage their followers especially young people to practice safe sex by using both male and female condoms. The institutions should not demonise the condoms to discourage young people from taking up the best contraception option after abstinence. This will go a long way in creating a generation of healthy young people in Southern Africa.
We are appealing to all parents and guardians to promote safe sex conversations at family level to educate our children for them to make informed sexual decisions. Gone are the days where condom use conversations were a taboo. Sparing condom use conversations at family level is a huge risk to the health of our children.
Civil society organisations should not retire from engaging governments and parliamentary institutions to persuade them to revise health policies that are a hindrance to young people and students’ access to contraceptives like condoms and HIV testing and counselling.
While Section 76 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that: “Every citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe has the right to have access to basic health-care services, including reproductive health-care services”, existing legal and policy guidelines limit access.
Section 35 of the Public Health Act of 2018 provides that children, defined as persons under the age of 18, requires parental or adult consent to access medical health services. In addition, National HIV Testing Guidelines of 2014 state that a child under the age of 16 is unable to consent to HIV testing and counselling (HTC).
We would like to remind Southern African governments especially Zimbabwe to honour the commitment they made to allocate and disburse 15 percent of the national annual budget towards the health sector as agreed at the Abuja declaration in 2001. Allocating resources to health sectors will amplify the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Governments also need to be alive of their signatures at the Maputo Protocol where they committed to support women and girls’ rights. It is important to highlight that promoting the use of female condoms empowers women to make decisions during intimate times with their partners. Empowered women and girls are highly likely to retain power when engaging in sexual activities. Condom use is currently the only alternative to prevent HIV and other STIs.