No Protection for Condom-vending MachinesAnand, a vegetable seller, has had a stall at the Koyambedu market for over three years and considers himself familiar with the place. But he looked bemused when asked about Condom vending machines in the market. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said.
It’s been over four years since the Chennai Corporation first installed Condom vending machines across the city. Even after installing 1,000 machines, they are struggling to get out of the teething phase and are plagued by myriad problems, right from accessibility and awareness to theft of these machines.
VS Shankar, chief territory officer at HLL Life Care Ltd, responsible for the maintenance of these machines, said, “We have installed the machines in the Koyambedu and T Nagar bus termini, railway stations, select public toilets and TASMAC and petty shops.”
The condoms are priced at Rs 5 per pack and the average sale ranges from 4 to 5 packs per month in some areas to 25 to 30 in others. The machines are checked once in 10 days, said Shankar.
Diligent though the maintenance may be, the lack of awareness ensures that the machines remain well-stocked, defying the scheme’s objective. To add to the problems, several machines are being stolen for being sold as scrap.
“One of our machines near an RTO office in MGR Nagar was stolen last week,” said Shankar. “We’ve already registered an FIR with the police. But this keeps happening. In the last two years, since the installation of the upgraded models, at least 20 of them have been stolen.”
Another major problem is that despite the widely accepted fact that women sex workers constitute a high-risk group, these machines are installed mostly in men’s toilets, the only exception being the one in a women’s toilet in Mandaveli. Attributing this to social stigma associated with use of contraceptives, Shankar said, “Most corporation toilets are run by women and they don’t feel comfortable with these machines in their toilets.”
Shambu Kallolikar, project director of Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (Tansacs), which is in charge of coordinating the project, agreed, saying, “Most women sex workers already have access to condoms owing to the state-run scheme of free distribution.” While machines installed in medical stores and paan shops are accessible, lack of advertisement and awareness campaigns and counselling of shopowners in dealing with queries, have rendered the scheme largely ineffective.
Source: Times of India