The $755 Condom Pack in Venezuela

Bloomberg Business recently reported on the alarming situation in Venezuela, where condoms (among other staple items) are becoming incredibly scarce due to high inflation and a lack of imported goods making their way to the country.

Durex and Trojan, a few of the more popular brands in the country, have nearly stocked out – except for a few black market channels or scarce-good auction sites, such as MercadoLibre, where you can still bid on a 36-pack of Trojans for around 4,760 bolivars (roughly one months wages) which translates to about $755.

Interestingly, there is still a supply of cheaper Asian-made condoms available in parts of the country; however, the stigma against these apparently low quality condoms have kept them on shelf, despite the lack of alternatives.  Interesting to see how important brand perceptions are even in the midst of a financial crisis.  A lesson that sometimes cheap and available is not all that matters to those in dire need…

Read the entire article below:

The $755 Condom Pack Is the Latest Indignity in Venezuela

Venezuelans who already must line up for hours to buy chicken, sugar, medicines and other basic products in short supply now face a new indignity: Condoms are hard to find and nearly impossible to afford.

“The country is so messed up that now we have to wait in line even to have sex,” lamented Jonatan Montilla, a 31-year-old advertising company art director. “This is a new low.”

A collapse in oil prices has deepened shortages of consumer products from diapers to deodorant in the OPEC country that imports most of what it consumes, with crude exports accounting for about 95 percent of its foreign currency earnings. As the price the country receives for its oil exports fell 60 percent in the past seven months, the economy is being pushed to the brink with a three-in-four chance of default in the next 12 months if oil prices don’t recover.

The impact of reduced access to contraceptives is far graver than frustration over failed hookups. Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection and teenage pregnancy. Abortion is illegal.

“Without condoms we can’t do anything,” Jhonatan Rodriguez, general director at the not-for-profit health group StopVIH, said by phone Jan. 28 from Venezuela’s Margarita Island. “This shortage threatens all the prevention programs we have been working on across the country.”

Scarcity, Risks

The condom shortage, caused by a scarcity of dollars among importers, has prices on a website used to find scarce goods soaring and risks aggravating one of South America’s highest HIV infection and teenage pregnancy rates.

Condoms and other contraceptives disappeared from many Venezuelan pharmacies and clinics starting in late December, as the government tightened dollar disbursements amid sliding oil revenue, according to the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation. No condoms were available in 10 eastern and central Caracas pharmacies visited in late January, compared with as many as 20 different kinds available at some locations in November, including Reckitt Benckiser Group plc’s Durex and Church & Dwight Co.’s Trojan brands.

Infection Rate

Venezuela had the third-fastest rate of HIV infections per capita in South America, after Paraguay and Brazil in 2013, United Nations data shows. The country also has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies on the continent after Guyana, at 83 per 1,000, according to 2012 data from the World Bank. This compares to just 4 per 1,000 in Germany and 31 in the U.S.

On the auction website MercadoLibre, used by Venezuelans to obtain scarce goods, a 36-pack of Trojans sells for 4,760 bolivars ($755 at the official exchange rate), close to the country’s minimum monthly wage of 5,600 bolivars. At the unofficial black-market rate used by people with access to dollars, the cost is about $25, compared to $21 in the U.S.

A two-thirds drop in the value of Venezuelan oil since June has brought the country to the brink of a debt default, according to prices in the swaps market. Instead of cutting social spending, President Nicolas Maduro has responded to lower revenue by slashing imports.

This year Venezuela will import 42 percent less than in 2012 in dollar terms, according to Bank of America Corp. estimates.

Lining Up

Shortages of everything from flour to heart medicine have spiked since December. Hundreds of people line up outside Caracas supermarkets at delivery times to buy food or household products at subsidized prices. Protests against Maduro’s handling of shortages, inflation and crime left 43 people dead last year.

Lining Up at a Pharmacy in Caracas

People queue up outside a pharmacy in Caracas, on Jan. 20, 2015.

Photographer: Federico Parra/AFP via Getty Images

In Venezuela, with abortion illegal, the disappearance of contraceptives will raise the number of female deaths by driving more pregnant women to clandestine clinics, said Carlos Cabrera, vice president of the local branch of London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation. A lack of condoms will also leave a long-lasting economic impact by taking girls and young women away from schools and the work force, he said.

“An unwanted teenage pregnancy is a mark of government’s failure: failure of its economic, public health and educational policy,” said Cabrera, a practicing gynecologist in Caracas.

No Trust

In the town of Los Teques on the outskirts of Caracas, Ramo Verde pharmacy manager Katherine Munoz stood by a contraceptive shelf filled with Asian-made condoms. No Durex or Duo, a Beiersdorf AG product, have arrived in her shop since October, with stocks depleting last month, she said, adding that customers “don’t trust” the brands she has left.

“People ask me whether I have used them myself and can recommend them,” Munoz said. “I can’t say I have.”

Supplies of birth control and emergency contraceptive pills as well as anti-retroviral drugs for HIV patients are also at critically low levels, according to IPPF and StopVIH.

Durex imports to Venezuela have collapsed “because of the political situation the country is going through,” Reckitt Benckiser spokeswoman Priscilla Sotela said in an e-mailed response to questions. Church & Dwight didn’t respond to an e-mail and phone calls seeking comment

Maduro promised in 2013 to build a network of condom factories to protect Venezuela’s youth from the effects of “capitalist pornography.”

‘Ears Grow Hot’

“When the ears grow hot and nothing can wait, and everything must happen now or the world will end — that’s when you end up with a tremendous belly at 14 or 15 years of age,” he said in a televised address in June 2013. “This can’t be.”

None of the factories have been completed, according to the pharmaceutical federation President Freddy Ceballos.

Officials at Venezuela’s Health Ministry didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls from Bloomberg News seeking comment on contraceptive shortages.

“I ran out yesterday. Now, there’s next to nothing, and what you find is really expensive,” said Montilla, the advertising company art director. “You can’t take any risks.”

To get contraceptives in the capital, residents can still go to one of three family-planning centers run by IPPF subsidiary PlaFam, where in late January condoms were sold freely for 3 bolivars a piece.

“This is all there is,” said pharmacist Carlos Hernandez as he handed out the last two condoms available in the dispensary of the University Hospital of Caracas on Jan. 29. “Who knows when we will get more.”

Welcome to the Condom Collective!

Welcome to the Condom Collective! You might be asking yourself “what is this blog all about?” and “who cares about condoms?” Why should you read it? Below is an explanation and why you might want to subscribe, follow along, and learn a thing or two about rubbers.

I started this blog as part of a two year journey to better understand EVERYTHING about condoms. I am on a journey to gather intelligence on how condoms are made, what innovations are coming about in condom technology, how consumers feel about and engage with condoms, how condoms are distributed and sold, and to better understand the reproductive health landscape in which condoms play a crucial role.

Of course, there is a reason behind all of this. I work for PSI, one of the leading distributors of condoms in the world, and I am on a mission: to unify our condom business in East Africa (and ultimately beyond) so that we maintain our positive health impact in the region but can streamline our business portfolio to offer better value, become more relevant, and ensure we maximize our ROI as we try to ensure equitable access to every person in East Africa who needs a condom.

So, again, why might you want to read this blog? Well, for the following reasons:

  • If you want to learn about the condom market or more generally, what drives condom sales around the world
  • If you are curious about the role of condoms in the sexual and reproductive health landscape
  • If you think “hey, condoms should be distributed for free to all” but also wonder about the sustainability of such a proposition
  • If you are curious to learn about how condoms can be equitably accessed: that is, how a large social marketing agency plans to ensure everyone has access to a condom and sources them from the appropriate sector (depending on their SES quintile and willingness to pay)
  • If you want to see best in class condom marketing from around the world and be inspired!
  • If you want to hear from real people in East Africa engaged with condoms, and hear what they have to say about their preferences for brands, socially marketed condoms, the impact that PSI is having, etc.

This “condom collective” will be an amalgamation of gathered market intel, consumer and trade insights, inspirational stories and interviews, and ultimately an engine of ideation around condoms. I will be spending time in approximately 10 countries to gather content for this blog and will be asking for contributions from our team to keep the content rich and the dialogue exciting.

Stay tuned for more to come…I will soon be travelling to visit our team in Kampala to conduct a market landscape assessment and learn everything there is to learn about condoms in that market.

from where the rubber hits the road,

Montague