The use-and-throw policy applies to condoms. But in Gujarat, it seems to be applying to the condom vending machines (CVM) as well. For, a total of 11,000 CVMs have gone missing or stolen from across the state.
Across the globe, condoms have played a major role not only in curbing the spread of deadly diseases like HIV and AIDS, but also in avoiding unwanted pregnancy. Hence, National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) in association with public sector Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL) came up with the idea of installing CVMs.
However, those who work in the field of AIDS prevention claim the project failed due to lack of maintenance and irregularities in refilling of the machines. Reason: In 2009, the contract between NACO and HLL expired, after which there had been no attempt to maintain the machines.
“Such projects have worked well in many foreign countries. It keeps a check on the spread of HIV/AIDS. But here, poor maintenance has dented the project,” said Hitendra Rathor of Prayas, an NGO that works with migrant labourers.
Smitha Chavda — a member of Akhandjyot, an NGO that works with migrant workers — said: “One packet normally has three to four condoms and migrant workers avoid buying it because of one-night stands. Hence, CVMs were a better option for them as it was safe and cost effective.”
Another person working with an NGO said she has not seen any machine after 2010. “No one knows where all the machines have gone and why the project has stopped,” said Jyoti More of Vikas Jyot Trust, an NGO that works for sex-workers.
Each machine has a capacity of 500 condoms. And according to NACO, there were 72 CVM refilling centres across Gujarat that looked after the machines at regular intervals.
“CVMs were installed in high-risk areas with the objective of addressing embarrassment and ensure round-the-clock availability of condoms. Depending on the usage, we used to refill them,” said Gaurav Jain, technical support group, NACO.
Chavda, on the other hand, alleged mismanagement. “The machines were left discarded and for months they were not refilled. People would insert coins to get condoms in empty CVMs. After repeated attempts, they would get frustrated and break the machine.”
According to NACO’s 2011 annual report on AIDS, West Bengal, Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are estimated to have more than one lakh people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) — accounting for 22 per cent of HIV infections in the country.
Despite all this, Kamlesh Mesvaniya — joint director TI of Gujarat State AIDS Control Society — said there’s nothing to fret. “We will reinstall all the machines after election,” he said.