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Is Zimbabwe’s condom use per person the highest in the world?

This article is more than 7 years old

A claim about Zimbabweans’ high condom use cropped up again, this time at the International AIDS 2016 conference in Durban recently.

The head of Zimbabwe’s mother-to-child HIV prevention efforts, Dr Angela Mushavi, reportedly said: “Our infection rate is going down. Zimbabwe has the highest per capita condom use in the world.”

News24 reported the statistic last year too. But does it hold true?

157 million condoms distributed

Africa Check first contacted Mushavi. She sent us figures for the number of condoms distributed in Zimbabwe in 2015, showing over 150 million male and 7 million female condoms.

She said it was from  Population Services International (PSI), a global health non-profit focusing on HIV and the social marketing of condoms, and put us in touch with a PSI representative in Zimbabwe, Kumbirai Chatora. (Note: We asked how exactly PSI tracks condom distribution but they haven't yet responded.)

Chatora confirmed that the distribution data was theirs but said that PSI does not collect data on the use of condoms. We asked Mushavi why she spoke of condom use when the data she provided was for condom distribution but have not yet received a reply.

Only have data for ‘at risk populations’

Working out condom use is difficult, according to experts we spoke to.

Deputy executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health Institute, Professor Francois Venter, told Africa Check “it’s a very difficult indicator to measure”.

Chief of the fertility and family planning section in the UN’s population division, Dr Ann Biddlecom, pointed out that data is only collected on condom use among people at higher risk of HIV transmission such as people aged 15 to 49 with multiple sex partnerships.

The UN data shows that Zimbabwe has the 10th highest condom use of 37 countries in this higher risk group, with 44.3% of respondents reporting having used a condom when they last had sex. The 37 countries are those in which there is a generalised epidemic of HIV/AIDS, Biddlecom said.

Country 2015 Source
Armenia 72.3% 2008-09 DHS
Swaziland 71.5%% 2010 DHS
Nigeria 64.5% 2014 KAP Study
Ukraine 61% 2011-12 DHS
Belize 60.5% 2010 DHS
Mauritius 50.7% 2010 DHS
Gabon 48.5% DHS 2014
Lesotho 46.4% 2011 DHS
Haiti 46.2% 2004 DHS
Zimbabwe 44.3% 2010 DHS
Honduras 41.4% 2011-12 DHS
Cameroon 41.1% 2011 DHS
Malawi 35.4% 2012 DHS
Togo 31.2% 2013 DHS
Uganda 30.1% 2014 DHS
Burkina Faso 29.4% 2008-09 DHS
Rwanda 28.9% MICS 2010
Zambia 27.1% 2013 DHS
Mozambique 26.9% MICS 2014
Chad 25.7% 2014 KAP Study
Benin 23.6% 2014 BSS
Cambodia 22.0% 2012 DHS
Senegal 20.9% 2009 DHS
Liberia 20.7% 2012 DHS
Ghana 17.5% 2014 MICS
Mali 10.1% 2011-12 DHS
Sierra Leone 9.6% 2011 DHS
Madagascar 2.0% 2014 MDG Endline Survey
Nine countries - Albania, Burundi, Colombia, Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guyana, Kenya and Peru - recorded that none of the people in the higher risk group reported using a condom at last sex.

Not enough condoms for sub-Saharan Africa

A “Prevention Gap Report”, published by UNAIDS in July, aimed to document the success in tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS so far. On the distribution of condoms, the report suggests more needs to be done. It states that “progress in the provision and use of condoms has largely stalled; the gap in sub-Saharan Africa alone is more than 3 billion male condoms a year.”

In 2015, in sub-Saharan Africa, an average of 10 male condoms was available for every man aged 15 to 64 years and just one female condom per eight women aged 15 to 64 years.

Condom availability varied between as many as 40 condoms per man aged 15 to 64 years in Namibia and South Africa to fewer than five condoms per man aged 15 to 64 years in Angola and South Sudan. Condom distribution was particularly low in some countries in western and central Africa, such as Burundi, Chad, Guinea and Mali.

The report did not specifically mention Zimbabwe, but based on the country's statistical agency's population projections and the PSI distribution figures, the country also had 40 condoms available for every man between 15 and 64 years.

In Zimbabwe, the high availability of male and female condoms and the relatively high self-reported use of condoms among adults who have multiple sexual partnerships are evident, Biddlecom told Africa Check. These form a critical part of HIV prevention efforts, she said.

Conclusion: Claim about condom use in Zimbabwe incorrect

There is no data to prove that Zimbabwe has the highest per capita condom use in the world.

Self-reported data about condom use among high-risk populations shows that Zimbabwe has the 10th highest number of condom users in this category among 37 countries.

Yet there is a large gap between the number of condoms available and the need for them in sub-Saharan Africa. Higher condom distribution is correlated with decreased HIV prevalence and is therefore an important part of HIV prevention efforts.

Additional reading

UN chief on HIV/AIDS: 3 claims by Ban Ki Moon scrutinised

Fact-checking the 21st International AIDS conference

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