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Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Warning on condom safety
Ten billion condoms are used every year
One million people a day will be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies unless improvements are made in the condom safety, experts have warned.

Consumers International, a global lobby group, has called for strict quality rules to be imposed on condom manufacturers to ensure they are safe.

The call comes ahead of a meeting on Monday of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in Malaysia.


If a breakage rate of 5% became the norm, more than a million extra exposures to Aids and unwanted pregnancies would occur every single day

Julian Edwards, Consumers International
The ISO is expected to draw up new rules on the quality of synthetic condoms at the meeting.

Alternative contraception

Synthetic or plastic condoms account for a small proportion of the 10 billion condoms used every year.

They were developed to provide an alternative to those men and women who are allergic to the latex, used in traditional condoms.

At present there are no international rules on the quality of plastic condoms.

Consumers International has criticised the speed at which the ISO has been asked to draw up quality criteria for these condoms.

It said the process has been too fast and the measures being considered are not stringent enough.

It also warns that if low standards are imposed there could be a knock-on effect with the safety of latex condoms being compromised.

One of their key concerns, is the acceptable breakage rate of plastic condoms.

The acceptable breakage rate for latex condoms is 1.5%. However, the ISO is considering an acceptable breakage rate of 5% for plastic condoms, according to Consumers International.

Stringent standards

Julian Edwards, its director general, said: The standards for synthetic condoms must be as stringent as those for latex condoms."

He added: "If a breakage rate of 5% became the norm, more than a million extra exposures to Aids and unwanted pregnancies would occur every single day. This is clearly unacceptable.

"If synthetic manufacturers cannot meet higher standards, their product must be withdrawn from general distribution and sold, clearly labelled, only to people with latex allergies."

The ISO is also considering proposals to allow manufacturers to label condoms as small, medium or large.

However, Consumers International has warned that this could cause many men to buy condoms that are simply too big, out of vanity.

Mr Edwards warned that people who wear condoms which are too big run the risk of the contraception coming loose.

Consumers International wants condoms to be sold with labels describing their width and length instead.

It also wants condoms to be easier to open.

Its standards officer Sadie Homer said: "A great deal of condom packaging is difficult to open quickly but rapid access to the product is an important requirement.

"If crisp manufacturers can make a tear strip, surely condom manufacturers can make their packages easier to open?"

She added: "Often the standards set can make the difference between life and death.

"This is one of those cases. Reducing the acceptable quality of condoms might benefit manufacturers but at what cost to public health."

See also:

17 Jun 02 | Health
01 Oct 01 | Health
17 Jun 00 | Health
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