The mobile condom distribution team that distributed 5.5 million condoms throughout the U.S. last year, Condom Nation – an initiative from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization – spent Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C., where the team and their patriotically-themed vehicles distributed 75,000 condoms and tested 75 people during three events held throughout the nation’s capital.
The team’s specially decorated big rig and matching sprinter testing van hosted events at the Benning Stoddert and King Greenleaf Recreation Centers on Friday and Saturday before appearing at the Black Pride Health and Wellness Expo on Sunday, where Condom Nation representatives – including HIV advocate and Condom Nation Program Manager Marco Benjamin and Truck Manager Pat Ruiz – handed out free condoms to the public. Free HIV testing using the bioLytical Laboratories’ INSTITM Rapid HIV Test – which gives accurate results in just sixty seconds – at each event was supported by staff from the AHF Blair Underwood Healthcare Center located near George Washington University at 2141 K Street NW, Suite #606.
The program launched its second U.S. tour in March. In the months since the team’s 18-wheel, 72-foot custom-wrapped big rig and matching HIV testing sprinter van departed on a speedy cross-country cruise from California, Condom Nation distributed nearly 600,000 free condoms and tested about 200 people for HIV at events in Texas, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, and Ohio.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1.4 million cases of chlamydia were reported in 2011, and reporting of new gonorrhea cases saw its second consecutive year of increase with more than 300,000 new cases that year. These are just some of the estimated 20 million new STD cases reported annually, half of which occur in young people aged 15 -24. The CDC estimates the health care costs to the nation for treating these diseases – which are preventable through condom use – to be about $16 billion per year.
“Condom Nation is about access to condoms,” said Condom Nation Director James Vellequette. “Our goal is to make condoms easily and readily available for free or at a very minimal cost to those receiving them through our widespread, national, fun and motivated distribution efforts. Simultaneously, we need to eliminate the stigma around having condoms, carrying them, selling them, or best of all, giving them away so that everyone has access to them whenever they need them.”
The tour had a preliminary goal of distributing 25 million condoms through their domestic U.S. tour and an additional 25 million through newly launched global Condom Nation teams in countries around the world. However, with requests pouring in from public and private agencies across the US, coupled with new opportunities to access younger demographics through distribution to high schools and colleges, “we already see ourselves greatly exceeding our initial estimates,” said Vellequette, adding that 50 million condoms distributed in the U.S. alone is a more accurate projection.
Condom Nation left Los Angeles on March 10th, and before arriving in Florida made stops in Dallas, Texas – where the team dropped over 600,000 condoms for distribution to agencies in need across the south – and in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they provided more than 50,000 condoms to the state’s Department of Health. During the team’s six stops throughout Florida in March, they distributed over 175,000 condoms and tested over 200 people. In recent weeks, the group distributed free condoms in connection with two AHF “Keep The Promise on AIDS” Marches and Rallies in Brooklyn, NY and Cleveland, OH.
From Washington, the group continued on to New Jersey and will be in New York for a stop at the Brooklyn Pride celebration on June 8th before proceeding to Massachusetts.