Explained in 5 charts: Why India needs condoms and their marketing

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On December 11, the Union information and broadcasting ministry issued an advisory to television channels not to air advertisements of condoms “which are for a particular age group” between 6 AM and 10 PM. The reason given by the director of broadcasting was that they could be “indecent/inappropriate for viewing by children”.


In an official memorandum presented to the Rajasthan High Court, the ministry clarified that the advisory “only pertains to sexually explicit content”.


Advertising as a source of knowledge dissemination


About 100 years ago, Raghunath Karve, a Mumbai-based teacher and son of Bharat Ratna awardee Dhondo Keshav Karve, published a periodical named Samaaj Swasthya (meaning public health). This journal popularised the concept of sexual health by disseminating knowledge about safe sex. It also advocated advertising of condoms, even selling those to the needy.


The need for contraceptives


Cut to 2017: How strongly does India today need condoms, and other methods of contraception like sterilisation and oral pills?


The use of contraception (any method) in India has reduced from 56.3% in 2005-06 to 53.5% in 2015-16, after gradually increasing until 2005-06. Today, male sterilisation is at its lowest in decades, and female sterilisation is on the decline, too.


The use of condoms as a family planning method is on the rise, but it is still below global levels. With India slated to become the most populous country in the world by 2030, according to the United Nations, there is a growing need to control population growth in states where fertility rate is still high.


While less prevalence of condom use does not necessarily mean family planning is in a bad shape (Germany has a 1% prevalence), it may not be the same in India, given that the use of other methods of contraception are on the decline here.


Following the AIDS campaigns that started in the 1990s, the government distributed condoms at public places with a greater vigour until 2007; that in 2016-17 is down to the lowest in 25 years.


Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh/Jharkhand, respectively, have fertility rates (TFR) of 3.2, 3.1 and 2.8 children born per woman, higher than the national average of 2.3, and also higher than the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman that stabilises a country’s population.


The number of condoms marketed under the social marketing scheme, too, has reduced in the past decade from 1.1 million a year to 400,000 a year in 2016-17.


The I&B ministry advisory also cites the Cable Television Rules, 1994 — which have now crossed teenage, in times of effectively unlimited mobile broadband at throwaway prices — to suggest that condom advertisements “endanger safety of children” and “create in them any interest in unhealthy practices”.


While women with comprehensive knowledge about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) rose in the decade from 2006 to 2016, the proportion of men knowing about HIV/AIDS dropped marginally from 33% to 32.5%.


Data from the same source, the comprehensive national family health survey, also show that both men and women increasingly know better that a consistent use of condoms can reduce the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS.


However, recent data look grim. The minister for health and family welfare recently told the Lok Sabha that the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases like Syphilis was on the rise in the past three years.


Condoms became and increasingly preferred mode of family planning at the turn of the century, following an aggressive advertising campaign about sexual health by the government, simultaneously with an advertisement boom in the condom manufacturing industry.


“The potential factor contributing to the condom’s popularity may be active social marketing programmes and commercial advertising of condoms”, notes an article in Indian Journal of Medical Research (Acceptability of male condom: An Indian scenario, Indian J Med Res 140 (Supplement), November 2014, pp 152-156).

Various reports put the growth in the sale of condoms (as a result of increased preference) in commercial contraceptives market at more than 15% CAGR.

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