Friday, February 17, 2006

Tracking condoms?

This from CDC prevention news:

NEW YORK: "New York to Put Its Stamp on Condom Giveaway" Los Angeles Times (02.15.06):: Ellen Barry

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced recently that it is planning to develop memorable packaging for condoms to help its free condom program track distribution. Since June 2005, when Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden launched the Free Condom Initiative to help prevent HIV/STDs, the city has distributed 1 million condoms a month. However, the generically packaged condoms are hard for clinicians to track in order to gauge the program's efficacy. "We wanted to develop condom packaging that was noticeable and memorable so that we can later track the effectiveness of our distribution. We also aim to use the packaging to promote condom use and awareness," said department spokesperson Sandra Mullin.

Now you know I would be all for condom promotion if you've been paying attention to this blog, so you'll forgive me if I ask "exactly how is it they plan to track these condoms?" I grok packaging to "promote condom use and awareness." (I offer my favorite slogan for their use.) But, what? Barcodes? Electronic sensors? Camera trucks rolling around, calling out "Show us your condoms"? And what are they tracking? If it's not enough to count how many condoms are left in the bowl vs. how many you put in the bowl, are they tracking movement, routes of distribution, how many condoms per person?

Yeah, you can't tell much from such a sort squib, and I really need to go read the whole article, but time is short, and it's way more fun to cross my eyes and be a bit contrarian for a moment. One result, as it happens, is to consider the fact that condom distribution is very complicated these days, isn't it? There's the whole pushback against the use and distribution of condoms. There's the near absence of free condoms in bars. There are (perceptually) fewer condom dispensers in women's rooms--again. The condom lobby, unlike the pharmaceutical lobby, is pretty much non-existent. And then there's the whole range of issues about actual condom use. Just making them available doesn't mean that they will be used.

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OK, so I read the article. I'll stick with what I've written--it makes as much sense. (Well, they did get the pushback into the article, but the article was pretty much otherwise clueless about the issues--which leaves the reader clueless, no?)

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