1.2 billion Condoms for Brazil’s Birth Control Policy

The Brazilian Ministry of Public Health has decided to invest in 2009 heavily in actions for the promotion of family planning. Among the major actions is the purchase of 1.2 billion condoms, a record in the world, and the distribution of most of the existing stock of 458 thousand ‘morning-after’-pills. New purchases of conventional injectable contraceptives and contraceptive pills, of which 50 million strips were distributed last year, are expected.

Within the policy of the Ministry of Public Health it is thought that an increased use of contraceptives is synonymous with economic development. According to the most recent Pesquisa Nacional de Demografia e Saúde (National Research on Demography and Health), released in July, the percentage of women using contraceptive pills (22.1%) surpasses for the first time the demand for sterilization (21.8%).
For the director of the Strategic Actions of the Ministry, Adison França, this result is encouraging: “Ten years ago, by far the most common method was sterilization of the woman. It shows that the Brazilian society develops.”

Also in connection with the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, the purchase of the condoms represents three times the 406 million items, which were distributed last year. If the new to be purchased condoms should be distributed equally among all Brazilians between 15 and 70 years, everyone will receive 22 condoms this year.
Besides increasing the purchases, the government inaugurated in 2008 the first condom factory in Xapuri, in the federal state of Acre. The first delivery of one million units took place 18 days ago.

The increase of federal investment in the family planning policy meets (of course) strong opposition from the Catholic Church. The free distribution of condoms and contraceptive pills, along with the defence of the de-criminalization of abortion, brought the tension between the clergy and the Minister of Public Health, Jose Gomes Temporão, to a climax. Following the condemnation by Pope Benedict XVI, the purchase of pills and condoms is the target of harsh criticism from the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops.

NGO’s and religious organisations, however, defy the official church policy and take an active part in the distribution. In November, an investigation by the newspaper O Globo showed that the official preaching against the use of contraception is ignored by priests, nuns and lay people engaged in pastoral activities and NGOs, and without fanfare, organize the distribution of condoms and educational books.

Despite the divergent views of the base of the Church, the bishops remain stubbornly committed to maintaining the exclusive use of natural methods of family planning, such as sexual abstinence and elevate the tone of criticism to a great height.

Another issue with which the Church collides with the Government is the controversy over the de-criminalization of abortion. Tabled by Minister Temporão in the beginning of his nomination in 2007, the battle cry is now carried by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, when he clearly stated 15 days ago that abortion is a public health problem and deserves a wide debate.

photo’s: O Globo