By GLENDA AWIKIAK
THE issues of HIV/Aids, other STIs, and unwanted pregnancy are a reality in Papua New Guinea and concerned actors have developed innovative solutions aimed at helping combat these problems.
One of these new innovative solutions is the Companion Product Condom Distribution (CPCD) trial project.
The initiative was trialled in Milne Bay, Chimbu and Jiwaka from 2015-2017.
In this project, condoms were packaged in Colgate Palmolive Klina soap cartons at the packaging plant in Lae, and then distributed to shops in the three provinces via the soap supply chain.
The CPCD trial was implemented by Social Science Dimensions (SSD) with support from the National Aids Council Secretariat (NACS) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as a last mile life-saving commodity distribution experiment motivated by the goal of realising universal access to means of prevention against HIV/Aids, STIs and unwanted pregnancies in remote areas.
This method was trialled to find out if piggybacking on an existing commercial supply chain could improve Papua New Guineans’ access to condoms, especially in rural areas.
CEO of Social Science Dimensions Rod Nixon said the experiment trialled a new approach aimed at advancing universal access to means of prevention against HIV/Aids, STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
He said the companion product did not have to be soap; it could be any product that is distributed to the trade-store level of the economy on a continuous basis.
Store operators are free to separate the condoms from the companion products and distribute them separately. There is no requirement that the condoms be distributed with the soap.
“There are a number of products that could be suitable, including products like tinned meat, cooking oil but we used laundry soap for the initial trial, because Colgate agreed to participate in the trial.
“Since the trial, Colgate has changed their product line, so in future we may be looking for other firms to work with, other firms that are interested in participating perhaps because of part of their corporate social responsibility commitment.
“In order to overcome the bottlenecks that have frustrated traditional condom distribution initiatives in the past, the trial experimented with distributing condoms included in the packaging of consumer items already distributed to the periphery of the PNG economy through existing supply chains.
“After 12 months of implementation an evaluation was conducted during the July-August 2016 period and we found strong support from trade store operators and community members.
“Strong support for the initiative was expressed among store operators and community members, with reports that the initiative has increased demand for the type of utilitarian soap used to transport the condoms from the factory to the store and canteen level of the provinces included in the trial.
“A particularly encouraging finding concerned the high level of enthusiasm for the project among store operators and end-users.
“Some of the field findings were very interesting. One store owner explained how she preferred to receive condoms with Klina because it enabled her to receive and distribute an important public health item, without having to order it herself, something that would conflict with her religious principles.
“Store operators distributing condoms were in almost all cases giving condoms free of charge to recipients, and a common request from store operators was for more condoms to be included in the soap cartons.
“The evaluation found that support for the initiative among store operators is critical because of the vital role they play transferring condoms across the final link in the supply chain – from the store to the end-user in the community.
“Male participants specifically referred to the embarrassment associated with sourcing condoms from female health staff.
“Other issues to emerge included the advantages of the approach in making condoms available to young women,” Nixon added.
“In all of the groups, participants stated that a main advantage of the CPCD initiative was that it made sourcing condoms much easier, and saved individuals the embarrassment or shame associated with sourcing condoms at health facilities.
“In the public health system condoms have been found to be unavailable for months but with the CPCD they were available at stores.
“The trial concluded in 2017, with strong interest indicated among health and public administration officials in the benefits of making condoms available at the village store level using the CPCD approach,”Nixon explained.
He added that following the positive findings of the 2016 evaluation, the team hoped to expand the CPCD project throughout PNG in 2018, and also to commence trials in new HIV-vulnerable low resource contexts.
Organisations interested in supporting life-saving commodity mass-distribution projects in contexts where cost effectiveness, infrastructural challenges and other logistical constraints are pressing considerations are, encouraged to contact the team to discuss possible partnerships or funding arrangements.
The CPCD evaluation includes a foreword by the director of NACS Dr Nick Dala who said that the future expansion of the project would depend on new partnerships at national and regional levels.
Dala encouraged businesses at all levels to work with the NACS to help make universal access to means of protection against HIV, other STIs and unwanted pregnancies a reality in PNG.
The CPCD trial was funded by the NACS with additional support from UNFPA for a media component.
Colgate Palmolive PNG Ltd generously contributed the use of their soap supply chain.
For those interested, the full project evaluation can be downloaded on the SSD website at www.socialsciencedimensions.com/blog