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Monday, December 28, 1998 Published at 16:48 GMT

World: Africa

Condom scandal in South Africa

SA government campaigns for condom use - tests found many faulty products

The South African government has begun an investigation into allegations that health officials have been importing millions of faulty condoms.

The BBC's Jane Standley: "Health workers want a complete overhaul of procedures."
Some 95% of all condoms used throughout South Africa are bought by the Ministry of Health, but health workers claim that inadequate import safeguards are practically an invitation to manufacturers to dump faulty and poor quality goods.

They say inspectors only visit suppliers, mainly in Asia, once a year and after testing one condom, give the brand an official standards mark.

High fault rate

A test in Cape Town has shown that nearly a quarter of condoms handed out free to prostitutes were split or perished, partly due to poor wrapping or storage.

Dr Harm Pretorius, Deputy Director General in the Health Ministry, said the government has sent back four million condoms to suppliers in India and China because they were substandard. He said they had found a number of bad batches and the rest were sent back as a precautiion.

South Africa has the fastest growing HIV-AIDS epidemic in the world, with 1,500 new infections every day.

Government campaign

In his Christmas address to the nation, South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki described AIDS as one of the great challenges facing the country.

Dr Harm Pretorius, Deputy Director General of the South African Health Ministry explains the problem with the imported condoms
"Our campaign or partnership against AIDS, aimed at inculcating into our society a culture of safe sex, should be stepped up.

"We urge everyone, especially the youth of our country to act responsibly in their relationships," Mr Mbeki said.

"One of the most effective ways of stopping the spread of HIV-AIDS is to use a condom."

The BBC's Africa Correspondent Jane Standley says that the scandal is a blow to the government's campaign to promote the condom, an unpopular method of protection - some 200 million condoms are used a year in a country of 40 million.

She says that great fear and superstition surrounds the HIV virus, with sufferers often being ostracised by their families and losing their jobs.

One health worker who went public about her HIV positive status was recently beaten to death by a crowd.

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