Vietnam Is Having Condom Problems — And That’s a Good Thing

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Vietnam is having condom problems.

Hundreds of thousands of condoms sold there are substandard. They tear easily and don’t offer reliable protection. While this might seem like a red flag, it’s actually a sign of progress.

The condom kerfuffle has its roots in Vietnam’s new prosperity. Vietnam used to be a low-income country, making it eligible for international aid funding from sources like the U.N. and the German Development Bank. So 80 percent of the country’s condoms were paid for by foreign donors and handed out for free, or at highly subsidized rates — under 5 cents a condom.

But in the past 20 years, the country has undergone significant changes. Government-led economic reforms have lifted people out of poverty. In 2010, Vietnam went from being low-income to middle-income. Its GDP now sits at about $2,000 per person. That means it’s too rich to qualify for the same level of aid funding.

Now that the money has begun to dwindle, the Ministry of Health is coming up with a new way to distribute condoms — through the free market. Yes, a socialist state is adopting a capitalistic solution. Working with USAID and PATH, a Seattle-based nonprofit, the government is winding down handouts; instead, it’s encouraging the sale of condoms.

Currently only 15 percent of condoms are handed out by the public sector; the remaining 85 percent are purchased at pharmacies, grocery stores and roadside stalls, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Prices range from 2,000 to 8,000 Vietnamese dong (that’s 10 to 40 U.S. cents).

The change in condom distribution highlights an ongoing issue in the world of international development. Poor countries are often dependent on foreign donors; critics say that handouts are not the answer, that governments need to become self-sufficient.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)