HERE’S a new type of condom-caused frenzy. And it should cause a different kind of excitement—the negative kind.

A German study recently discovered the thin sheet of rubber that supposedly protects people from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) causes cancer.

According to the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, traces of N-nitrosamine, a highly carcinogenic substance used in making condoms, were found in 29 of 32 condom types tested.

N-nitrosamine improves rubber elasticity and is found in most condoms available in the market today. According to the authors of the study, the rubber releases the carcinogenic substance when in contact with body fluids.

Although there are no prescribed limits to the amount of N-nitrosamine for condoms, the institute noted they do not pose an immediate risk that can cause panic or a mass recall of condoms from the market.

Ineffective

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) measures the failure rate of condoms in preventing pregnancies to be 10-14 per cent for inconsistent use and three per cent for consistent and proper use. This, besides other factors to consider like breakage, slippage, or the substandard quality of condoms. With the study showing cases of failure in controlling pregnancies, there are more reasons to reevaluate the efficacy of condoms in protecting against STDs.

Last year, the United Nations Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (UNAIDS) agency estimated that condom use may not protect from AIDS 10 per cent of the time, a relatively optimistic report considering earlier studies that showed 30 to 50 per cent failure rates.

Professor Norman Hearst of the University of California and epidemiologist Sanny Chen of the San Francisco Department of Health said that measuring condom efficiency is nearly impossible. This is because experts cannot simulate the actual conditions of sex in laboratories.

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In a 1992 report written by C. Michael Roland, then editor of Rubber Chemistry and Technology and head of the Polymer division of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, electron micrographs showed “intrinsic voids” or possibly holes about 5 microns in size. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is 0.1 micron in size (50 times smaller than the voids).

In the statistics provided by the Population Research Institute Review last year, the spread of HIV/AIDS globally has increased in direct proportion to the number of condoms distributed from 1984 to present, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the Studies in Family Planning journal showed that “no clear examples have emerged yet of a country that has turned back a generalized epidemic primarily by means of condom promotion.”

Last year, about 40 million people had AIDS and about 5 million new cases have been reported, according to the UNAIDS global epidemic update. About 3 million people have died because of the virus.

In the Philippines, a study by Human Rights Watch published last May, 1,965 people were registered with AIDS as of December 2003. However, the WHO estimates about 6-10 thousand cases.

UNAIDS adviser, Dr. Rand Stoneburner says abstinence and monogamy are still the best measures; they brought down the HIV infection rate in Uganda by 66 per cent, one of the few countries to have lowered its HIV/AIDS infection rate.

Dr. Angelita Aguirre, associate professor of the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery and head of the Committee on Bioethics of the UST Department of Medicine, concurs with reports that condoms are inefficient in protecting people from STDs.

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“Trends show that the more a particular population depends on condoms, the more likely there will be increased incidences of STDs,” she said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

No fool

Even the United States is taking no chances.

With evidence suggesting condoms are less effective in preventing STDs, U.S. President George W. Bush doubled the allocated budget of that country to promote sexual abstinence from $135 million to $270 million. Moreover, the U.S. Center for Disease Control is planning to put warnings on condom packages—similar to government warnings on cigarettes—late this year.

With much doubt and criticism being hurled against the efficacy of condoms, only the emergence of new findings about the condom will determine whether it is really effective in combating STDs. With reports from www.discoveryhealth.com, www.lifesitenews.com, www.who.int, www.pop.org, www.hrw.org, and www.zenit.org

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