A public health program has become an entrepreneurial dream. New York City’s free condom program, paid for by taxes from its citizens, has now become a profit-making business in the Dominican Republic, according to the NY Daily News, which reports that “the distinctively labeled” NYC Condom — clearly stamped “Not for Resale” — can be found in stores across the Caribbean country.
The free condom program was sentimentally launched in New York City on Valentine’s Day in 2007, when the Health Department began its give-away of more than 36 million free condoms that year. The original NYC Condom was a lubricated, standard-sized, Lifestyles brand male condom specially manufactured by Ansell Healthcare and distributed through 900 groups and businesses, including health care providers and nonprofits. Despite the intention, someone is making a pile of money, and it’s not the city, which has contracted with Ansell to the tune of $5.7 million.
According to the Daily News, Las Galeras Pharmacy in the Dominican Republic is undercutting sales of for-profit Durex condoms, which cost more than a dollar, by selling the NYC free condoms at about 50 cents. “We buy them from a provider here in the Republic,” pharmacist Francisco Pallano told the Daily News. “They distribute them to any pharmacy that wants them.” Pallano told that newspaper he did not know the distributor’s name.
The NYC condom program began as an effort to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases as well as to decimate the number of unwanted pregnancies. During its launch, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, former New York City health commissioner and now director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated, "Condoms can prevent HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancies. Abstinence is failsafe, and reducing the number of sexual partners reduces risk of infections. But for sexually active people, using a condom is key to staying healthy.”
Although from a public health standpoint, distribution of condoms anywhere is beneficial to all and may even have a very minor impact on New York City’s public health — being host to visitors from this Republic and home to its immigrants, Dominican sexual behavior has some impact on the city. From an economic perspective, though, this is a disaster as the city cannot waste any money on programs that do not directly benefit its citizens, many still hurting from Hurricane Sandy and the 2008 economic downturn.
According to a report published in American Journal of Public Health in 2009, the city's free condom program led to “high levels of NYC Condom awareness, and awareness translated into use, as 68 percent of respondents” in a survey conducted six months after the launch had used them. In a more recent report published in the same journal, the researchers found continued high rates of NYC Condom use. Data from New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that rates of new HIV infections have almost halved in the decade ending in 2013. Meanwhile, the annual number of free NYC condoms produced has increased to 38 million, while the number of organizations distributing the condoms has risen to 3,500; these include bars, restaurants, health clubs, coffee houses, barbershops, nonprofit groups, health care providers, and hospitals. “The NYC Condom Program has been immensely successful in promoting and encouraging safer sex,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said during a recent launch of a new look to the familiar city brand. "Successful" more than she knows.