City plans to buy millions of condoms for sexual health programs

Ottawa Public Health is planning to purchase millions of condoms to supply the city’s sexual health programs, which includes those offered at the Centretown and Somerset West community health centres.

OPH won’t comment on the details of the tender until the contract is awarded. Ottawa’s last major condom procurement was in 2010, when the city bought 2.3 million condoms.

According to OPH, rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV continue to rise among Ottawa’s youth. People aged 15 to 29 make up 79 per cent of chlamydia and gonorrhea diagnoses, says Zhaida Uddin, supervisor of the service and innovation team at OPH.

A study by OPH suggests that in 2010 there were 2,314 reported cases of chlamydia in Ottawa. Centretown had the highest chlamydia rate of any neighbourhood in the city with 76 reported cases. Sandy Hill-Ottawa East came in second with 72 cases.

Last February, OPH launched its Sex it Smart campaign, an initiative that aims to increase condom use and awareness among youth by increasing access to free condoms, giving them the option to order condoms online and providing information about where they can pick up condoms in their community.

Anne Christie-Teeter, manager of mental health and addictions at Somerset West Community Health Centre on Eccles Street, says there is a steady demand for free OPH-supplied condoms at the centre.

“We have condoms available in all of our public washrooms here,” says Christie-Teeter. “And people are taking them.” It’s part of our harm reduction messaging that we give to people to be safe.”

Since Sex it Smart launched nine months ago as an offshoot of OPH’s Get Tested–Why Not? campaign, which encouraged youth to get tested for sexually transmitted infections.

Uddin says there have been 23,000 page views on the Sex it Smart website and OPH has processed more than 700 online orders of condoms from Ottawa residents. The condoms are delivered free of charge and come in packages of 16.

Uddin says she’s pleased with the progress the delivery service and education campaign have made so far. “We weren’t sure if it would work or not.”

Sarah Brown, a harm reduction worker at the Centretown Community Health Centre, says the Cooper Street location also experiences a steady demand for condoms, but can’t determine whether that demand has recently increased.

Brown says offering free condoms to the community is an effective way of attracting clients to the centre, and that education and free services are important in encouraging healthy sexuality in the community. But normalizing taboo aspects of sexuality is part of the equation too.

“Even though we offer free condoms, I’m sure there are still barriers around people feeling shame picking them up. That’s where that normalizing comes in,” says Brown. “Or perhaps people feeling like they can’t access free supplies because they’re not in a certain (low) income group.”

So far it’s not possible to determine what effect the Sex it Smart campaign has had on the rate of STIs in the city. Uddin says OPH is conducting a survey to get feedback from the community to determine how its programs can improve.