Start spreading the news: NYC Condom unwrapped

Think about your condom distribution program. Does it consist of a basket of condoms at the clinic admission desk?

Take that vision and expand it a thousandfold, as evidenced by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's new NYC Condom. Since its debut on Valentine's Day 2007, some 10 million condoms with the distinctive black "NYC Condom" plastic wrapper have been distributed throughout the city, according to Monica Sweeney, MD, MPH, assistant commissioner of the city's Bureau of HIV Prevention and Control.

Condom distribution is nothing new for the city public health department, which has operated such a program since 1971, says Sweeney. But the decision to develop the private-label condoms and to distribute them free of charge represents an important effort in HIV prevention, says Allan Rosenfield, MD, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at the New York City-based Columbia University. New York is the first city to embark on such a campaign, and it may well serve as a model for others, says Rosenfield.

In June 2005, New York City launched an Internet-based Free Condom Initiative to provide community and social service organizations with condoms. Since that program's inception, distribution of condoms grew from 300,000 to 1.5 million per month. City health officials decided to develop a private-label brand to further boost the numbers, says Sweeney.

The tactic apparently is working. Some 5 million NYC Condoms were distributed during the program's first month of operation, with 3.7 million dispersed in the second month. Some 1,600 local organizations have received free condoms by ordering online at www.nyccondom.org or by calling 311, the city's information hotline.

Half are new customers

According to health department statistics, half of the 1,600 establishments that have received NYC Condoms are new customers. One in every three NYC Condoms went to organizations in Central Brooklyn, Central/East Harlem, and the South Bronx, where the health department operates satellite health offices, says Sweeney. An additional 800,000 condoms have been distributed in Manhattan's Chelsea and Clinton neighborhoods.

Who is ordering the condoms? Health care and social service organizations accounted for 44% of condom orders, say health department officials. Community and senior centers accounted for 7% of deliveries, and schools and universities received 9% of orders. Businesses also are participating in the program: 4% of orders were placed by bars and clubs, 5% by event planners, and 1% from beauty parlors, health clubs, and movie theaters.

Does the health department charge any fee for distribution? Absolutely not, says Sweeney. "We want to make condoms available to anyone who wants to use them," she states. "Whether you're using them for contraception alone, or for both contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, we don't want anyone not to use them for lack of having them available."

The city has made a commitment to continue to distribute the condoms free of charge as long as the demand is present, says Sweeney. As more condoms are needed, the department issues a request for proposal (RFP) invitation to condom manufacturers to submit bids for the product. "We go with the company that can guarantee us the best price while maintaining the highest quality," Sweeney says.

'We've got you covered'

A key to the condom program's success has been its consumer awareness campaign. Colorful posters are in subways, on bus stop kiosks, and distributed throughout the city, says Sweeney. Radio ads, as well as the web site, www.nyccondom.org, get the word out about the availability of the product.

While getting condoms out is an important message, health officials also are focusing on educating users on the importance of correct and consistent usage, says Sweeney. For example, during Gay Pride parade events, packets with condoms, lubricants, and educational material were distributed, she notes. City health officials will conduct a survey later this year to gauge the program's impact on prevention efforts, says Sweeney.

The consumer awareness program is very direct in its approach to condoms, says Sweeney. Juxtapose the frankness of the official poster of a condom with the tagline "We've Got You Covered" with the recent rejection of a Trojan condom advertisement by CBS and FOX networks. The commercial features a bar scene with women and pigs. When one pig goes to the restroom and returns with a condom purchased from a vending machine, he is transformed into an attractive man. The commercial closes with the message: "Evolve: Use a condom every time." In a written response to Trojan, FOX said that it had rejected the spot because "contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy," while in its rejection, CBS wrote, "While we understand and appreciate the humor . . . we do not find it appropriate for our network even with late night-only restrictions."1

"We're not saying, 'Here's a condom; go have sex,'" says Sweeney of the NYC Condom program. "But for those people who are sexually active, use a condom."

Reference

  1. Newman AA. Pigs With Cellphones, but No Condoms. New York Times; June 18, 2007; accessed at www.nytimes.com.