Condom vending machines expected to reduce STIs

A pilot project involving the installation of seven condom vending machines in Phuentsholing is expected to reduce cases of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies in town.

The Department of Public Health under National HIV/AIDS and STIs Control Program installed the condom vending machines in Phuentsholing.

Phuentsholing, being the business hub of the country, is visited by most citizens especially during winter and chance of diseases spreading through sexual intercourse is high. Records with medical authorities show that Phuentsholing has the second highest number of HIV cases reported.

Therefore the need for such machines at a strategic location like Phuentsholing is considered important. Also, the porous border attracts many non-nationals which increases STI risk.

“We are promoting accessibility to condoms for safer sex, which will reduce spreading of STIs and undesired pregnancies. The machines will make huge impact in the long run,” said Program Officer under National HIV/AIDS and STIs Control Program, Lekey Khandu. He also said that a study conducted by the department has found Phuentsholing to be a high-risk zone for multiple sexual partners including people across the border.

“We have initiated such interventions at the right time to reduce spread of STIs and promote safe sex,” he said.

The department has identified hotspots like drayangs, institutional centers, hotels and lodges and public places like bus terminals where such behaviors are common. “If the machines work as expected, we are confident that spreading of STIs will be minimized,” said Lekey Khandu.

Nu 5 is charged for three normal condoms at one delivery to prevent misuse of condoms unlike the past. A caretaker collects the amount and is responsible to replenish condoms whenever the tray is emptied. The caretaker also has to take care of the machines. To determine and maintain details of the trends of service usage, the caretaker will maintain a log book monitored by the department. Each of the 12 trays in the machine contains 51 pieces of condoms.

Meanwhile, people are hopeful that the machines would bring about positive impact on public health. “Such services will be good for users if implemented properly,” said Health Assistant at Gedu Hospital, PR Sharma.

A counselor based in Thimphu, Jurmin Dukpa, said that people should come forward and make use of such facilities. “Bhutanese are reluctant to ask for condoms publicly therefore they would not hesitate to come forward to avail the facilities,” he said adding that if people come forward to avail the service, its sure to reduce STIs.

The machines are  installed at the bus terminal, Tashi Delek Hotel, Yangchen Drayang, ST Drayang, Namsey Zomla Drayang, the new truck parking, near the sewerage pond and the College of Science and Technology.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing