“Free Condoms are like Cheap Clothes, they Tear Quickly”: Mistrust in Condoms among Young People in Windhoek, Namibia

Nicole Rigillo


Condom distribution is taken for granted as one of the pillars of effective HIV prevention strategies in developing countries, and has been a foundational governmental strategy in Namibia, a country with a 19.6% seroprevalence rate, since the mid-1990s. This article presents the results of field research conducted in Windhoek in 2004 and 2006, by exploring the ways in which young, urban Namibians express mistrust in the efficacy of free condoms. While the government and other HIV prevention agencies assert that all condoms are equally effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, young people instead articulate distinct understandings of condom use as a way to practice “safe sex”, which are dependent, in part, upon the brand, origin and cost of the condom in question. Contextual factors, such as government oversights concerning safe condom distribution and an abusive history of family planning, may have contributed to the widespread mistrust in condoms apparent across the country. Innovative approaches that move beyond the provision of technical information about condom safety are necessary if this mistrust is to be overcome in Namibia.

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