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Venezuela: The Economic Situation also Affects our Sexual Health
Go in, pay, go out; go in, pay, go out. This is the scenario when you're fifteen years old and you go to a pharmacy to buy condoms. You feel that everybody is looking at you, and right when you're done buying them you feel there's a huge sign on your forehead that reads, "I just bought condoms." If you're a teenager, buying condoms is not easy. An outrageous story appeared recently in social networks and news websites. In Venezuela having sex with your partner may cost up to 4,000 bolivars – about USD 700 at the official rate. This headline refers to online store sales, in this case, to a box of 36 latex condoms. Each condom, therefore, costs around 100 bolivars, the largest bill in Venezuelan currency.
So high a price undoubtedly makes it difficult, if not impossible, to buy them. However, this type of sale doesn't represent the bulk of the commercialization of condoms in the country; most of them are distributed in pharmacies and drugstores. When I read this story, I started walking around my neighborhood to assess the situation. The experience was not encouraging. In my search for condoms I had to visit about five different stores to be able to find a box with three latex condoms that cost 90 bolivars. It's also worth noting that in two of these stores condoms were kept behind the counter. While not impossible, the search isn't a piece of cake either, and we should add phrases like, "I feel embarrassed to buy condoms" or "I don't have the money." If you're a teenager and live in Venezuela, buying condoms is a challenge.
According to the Declaration of Sexual Rights, everybody has the right to health and to the benefits of scientific progress. Access to contraceptive methods in Venezuela is limited, and the situation is worse outside the capital cities. What happens, then, with the right to health? The only condoms for sale in the country are made of latex or sheepskin. While sheepskin condoms are useful to avoid pregnancy, they do not prevent STIs. More modern ones, made of polyurethane or polyisoprene, are not available. The same thing happens with internal (or female) condoms, whose distribution is sporadic and uncertain despite their many benefits. We keep adding negative conditions: limited options, high prices, and scarcity.
Fortunately, several NGOs in the city provide preservatives and other forms of contraception in their facilities. One of them is PLAFAM, IPPF/WHR Member Association, which sells condoms and other contraceptive methods at its four facilities and offers preferential prices for young people. Nonetheless, without a universal, consistent, and affordable supply, we fail to reach the entire population, particularly the most vulnerable groups. NGOs have a limited scope. While they constitute a key actor for the implementation of successful public policy, contraceptive supply cannot depend on them, especially in a country with high teenage pregnancy and STI rates.