The Price of Safer Sex Goes Up
By Varvara Zhluktenko
“I’ll have to get married and sleep only with my wife,” says Anton, a first-year student at KPI National Technical University with a smile, replying to a question about how he’s dealing with a peculiar problem: high condom prices. Due to the devaluation of the Ukrainian hryvnia and other factors related to the economic crisis, the price of a condom, that essential intimate product, has more than doubled in price in Kyiv drugstores over the last six months. Last autumn a standard pack of three condoms cost six to eight UAH – this March it cost between 20 and 30. A pack of 12 condoms runs 75 to 90 UAH. That can take a lot out of the budgets of Ukrainian young people and teenagers who have started their sexual lives.
It’s common knowledge that Ukraine has Europe’s highest rate of HIV transmission. An estimated 440,000 people aged 15 to 49 are living with HIV/AIDS – around 1.63 per cent of the adult population. Nearly 80 per cent of those infected are young. Currently HIV is rapidly spreading among young people through unprotected sex and injecting drug use. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other international bodies and institutions are helping combat the HIV/AIDS threat in Ukraine by carrying out awareness campaigns among children and young people about how to prevent infection.
One such campaign took place recently at KPI National Technical University. With the assistance of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, volunteers from the university student social service handed out 100,000 condoms they obtained from a Youth Friendly clinic. Similar campaigns have taken place at KPI since 2007. Olena Shapovalova, the head of the student social service, explained that the prestigious institution’s youth are rather serious about their health. The condom hand-out generated significant enthusiasm on campus walkways, although some of the lads complained about the “quality” and the “small sizes” of the “rubbers” they got. Some students say they are ready to purchase cheaper condoms now that prices have gone up, while others are dead set against that option. “You can’t economise on such a thing,” Masha, a second-year student, said categorically. She offered her own humorous view of how Ukraine could confront the problem: “We need to launch large-scale local manufacturing of condoms, so that we students don’t have to pay so much for imports!”
While girls mostly hope that their admirers will take care of condom-related issues, boys are doing some quick thinking. The vast majority made an oral commitment not to sleep around now that condoms are scarcer. Some said they’ll rely on friends from whom they can borrow condoms when they need them, while a first-year student who called himself Boris confessed, “Under the circumstances, you have to have sex more rarely.” Vitaly, a second-year student, said, “You have to have trust in your partners. But if you trust too much, you’ll pay the price later.”
Kyiv students say that the pleasure-seekers among them are committed to having safer sex because they’re afraid of contracting more mundane venereal diseases rather than because they fear HIV. “In Ukraine, some 21 per cent of schoolboys and 11 per cent of schoolgirls aged 15 to 16 reported that they’d had sexual intercourse in the last 12 months. For 15- and 16-year-old vocational school students, that figure was 45 per cent. And only 22 per cent of adolescents accurately know how HIV is transmitted,” says Olena Sakovych, UNICEF’s Youth and Adolescent Development Officer. “HIV-prevention issues are being introduced into the secondary school curriculum. But having more information does not always mean that you’ll change your risk-taking behaviour. Young people need to learn life skills just as much as they need to learn facts, so that they can resist peer pressure, critically assess situations and make healthy decisions. UNICEF is currently working with the relevant Ukrainian public bodies and non-governmental organizations to integrate the concepts into the educational system.”
Student organization volunteers say condom prices are more of an economic nuisance than a real health safety problem for those young people who are committed to acting responsibly towards themselves and their sexual partners. (Since most students are employed at least part-time and supported financially by their parents, not many have to live only on their scholarship money.) Those who have never worried about safer sex don’t worry about condom prices now, just as they didn’t before. Still, the higher prices can’t help but make it harder for many sexually active teenagers and young people to act responsibly. Charity organizations who work with risk-taking current students and graduates of boarding schools say that the girls they’ve met often get pregnant early and might already have a couple of children by the time they turn 18. They used condoms rarely in the past and are sure to use them even more rarely now that they cost more.
Since 2006, UNICEF, together with the Government of Ukraine, has been implementing the HIV/AIDS, Children and Youth Programme, which helps counter the threat of a full-scale HIV/AIDS outbreak in the country. For more information, visit: http://www.unicef.org/ukraine/ukr/activities_11400.html