Cristina Estrada, in Santo Domingo
To the sound of bachata and merengue music, more than 50 youth volunteers from the Dominican Red Cross are cheerfully packing 250,000 condoms donated by the manufacturer, Durex, to the Netherlands Red Cross.
The condoms are to be distributed through Netherlands Red Cross projects in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as well as in collaboration with organizations like the Dominican Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (REDOVIH+) and the Young People's AIDS Action Network.
"These condoms will be distributed in the two countries over the next two years, mainly to young people, through our regional Youth, Sports, AIDS and Drugs programme, but also in the jails, where the level of infection is very high" said Ingrid Jansen, coordinator of the programme in the Caribbean.
In the lastest United Nations report on HIV/AIDS, HIV infection among the prison population is described as a new, hidden dimension of the epidemic. It stresses the need for more systematic programmes to allow prisoners and their partners to be better protected against the virus.
"All the condoms come with an explanatory fact sheet and during distributions volunteers will give information on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies," Jansen says. The distribution of condoms supports the programmes of advocacy and information on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases already being carried out by the Red Cross.
"The idea is that they have a good time as well as working" said Lucas, the coordinator of the project in La Caleta, an outlying neighbourhood of the Dominican Republic capital, Santo Domingo. "We have organized competitions and raffles, and we have brought the equipment and the music team", he smiled.
The first condoms were to be distributed in several branches of the Dominican Red Cross on December 1, World AIDS Day.
After sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean has the highest rate of people living with AIDS. According to the latest UNAIDS figures, there are 440,000 people infected with HIV in a total population of nearly 35 million. In Haiti, the worst-affected country in the region, it is estimated that six out of every 100 adults live with the virus.
As well as condoms, Durex has donated 23,000 Euros to the Netherlands Red Cross, and has expressed its readiness to support its HIV/AIDS projects.
Four Dutch youth volunteers traveled to the Dominican Republic to share experiences with local youngsters. On their return, they will become Red Cross "ambassadors" who will provide training on sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy in schools.
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