Condoms made in U.S. shape foreign aid policy
By Celia W. Dugger / The New York Times, Published: October 29, 2006
EUFAULA, Alabama: Here in this courtly, antebellum town, Alabama's condom production has survived an onslaught of Asian competition, thanks to the patronage of straitlaced congressmen from this Bible Belt state.
Behind the scenes, the politicians have ensured that companies in Alabama won U.S. government contracts to make billions of condoms over the years for AIDS prevention and family planning programs overseas, although Asian factories could do the job at less than half the cost.
In recent years, the state's condom manufacturers fell hundreds of millions of condoms behind on orders, and a U.S. international aid agency began buying them from Asia. The use of Asian-made condoms has contributed to layoffs here that are coming next month.
But one of Alabama's two Republican senators, Jeff Sessions, has quietly pressed to maintain the priority for American-made condoms and will probably prevail if the past is any guide.
"What's wrong with helping the American worker at the same time we are helping people around the world?" asked the senator's spokesman, Michael Brumas.
That question goes to the heart of an intensifying debate among wealthy nations over the degree to which foreign aid is about saving jobs at home or lives abroad.
Britain, Ireland and Norway have all sought to make aid more cost effective by opening contracts in their programs to fight global poverty to international competition. The United States, meanwhile, continues to restrict bidding on billions of dollars worth of business to companies operating in America, and not just those that make condoms.
The wheat to feed the starving must be grown in United States and shipped to Africa, enriching agribusiness giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. The American consulting firms in Washington that carry out anti-poverty programs abroad – dubbed beltway bandits by critics – do work that some advocates say local groups in developing countries could often manage at far less cost.
The history of the U.S. government's condom purchases embodies the trade-offs that characterize foreign aid, American-style. Alabama's congressmen have long preserved several hundred factory jobs by insisting that the U.S. Agency for International Development buy condoms made here, although with a nod to their conservative constituencies, most have typically done so discreetly.
Those who favor tying aid to domestic interests argue that it not only preserves jobs and supports American companies, but also helps assure broad political support for foreign aid, which is not always popular.
On the other hand, skepticism of foreign aid is frequently rooted in the perception that the money is not well spent. Blame often falls on corrupt leaders in poor countries, but tied aid from rich nations – money that must be spent in the donor country – can also reduce effectiveness.
The U.S. government, the world's largest donor of condoms, has bought more than nine billion condoms over the past two decades. Under President George W. Bush's global AIDS plan, which dedicates billions of dollars to fight the epidemic, a third of the money for prevention must go to promoting abstinence. But that leaves two-thirds for other programs, so the U.S. government's distribution of condoms has risen, to over 400 million a year.
Over the years, the development agency could have afforded even more condoms – among the most effective methods for slowing the spread of AIDS – had it bought from the lowest bidders on the world market, as the UN Population Fund and many other donors did.
Randall Tobias, who heads the U.S. aid agency, declined through a spokesman to be interviewed on this topic. His predecessor, Andrew Natsios, sought to weaken the hold of what he sometimes called a cartel of domestic interest groups over foreign aid. He tried, for example, to persuade Congress to allow the purchase of some African food to feed Africa's hungry. Congress killed that proposal last year and again this year.
Hilary Benn, the British secretary of state for international development, said that Britain untied its aid in 2001 from requirements that only British firms could bid for the work.
"If you untie aid, it's 100 percent clear you're giving aid to reduce poverty and not to benefit your own country's commercial interests," he said.
The last American factory making condoms for the U.S. aid agency sits anonymously in a pine-shaded industrial park here in Eufaula. Inside a modern, low-slung building owned by Alatech Healthcare, ingenious contraptions almost as long as a football field repeatedly dip 16,000 phallic-shaped bulbs into vats of latex, with the capacity to turn out a billion condoms a year.
The equation of need is never straightforward. The African need to forestall its catastrophe of AIDS deaths is vast. But there is need in Alabama, too.
Most of the 260 people employed at this factory and the company's packaging plant in Slocomb are women, many of them struggling to support families on $7 to $8 an hour. The most vulnerable among them, single mothers and older women with scant education, are the most fearful of foreign competition. All feel the looming threat.
"It's cheaper, yeah," said Lisa Jackson, 42, a worker in the packaging plant. "But we Americans should have first choice. We need our jobs to stay in America. We got to feed our families."
[By Celia W. Dugger / The New York Times, Published: October 29, 2006, EUFAULA, Alabama; International Herald Tribune, http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/29/news/aid.php]
US ‘FOREIGN AID’ CONSISTS OF BILLIONS OF CONDOMS: Despite AIDS program's abstinence emphasis, US is still largest condom donor in the world. An article [28Oct06 New York Times] has exposed the self-serving business and political interests behind the U.S. export of billions of condoms to under-developed and developing countries as part of the nations’ foreign aid and international AIDS programs.
Despite the detrimental effects, both societal and physical of such so-called "aid", the past 2 decades have seen both Republican and Democratic senators alike treating the manufacture of billions of condoms as a purely economic perk and fighting for the manufacturing to remain in the US. The Bush administration has spent billions of dollars in its recently intensified global AIDS plan.
Of that money, one-third must be spent on promoting abstinence programs such as the Ugandan ABC program. However, that still leaves billions of new dollars for family planning and population control programs. Despite a Bush administration policy change in 2004 that let African countries use foreign aid for food, medical supplies and abstinence programs instead of solely for condom distribution, an even greater number of condoms are now being shipped each year with the false promise that they will protect against AIDS.
Over the last couple of decades, through its global plan to fight AIDS, the United States has supplied over 9 billion condoms to developing countries. This has made the US the largest condom donor in the world.
Dr. Robert Walley [medical director, Mater Care International] says that such condom-pushing policies are being implemented to the detriment of basic medical care. He says of funding, "While billions of dollars have been spent on abortion and birth control programs, only a small fraction is focused on providing emergency obstetric services."
Walley argues that foreign aid is used only to promote “reproductive health, which is the euphemism for abortion and contraception, to the population,” while women are being refused basic obstetric care because of lack of supplies and funding.
Dr. Margaret Ogola [medical director, Cottolengo Hospice, Nairobi, Kenya for HIV-positive orphans] stresses the fact that condom distribution from the western world has erroneously influenced African youth to believe that condoms are reliable in preventing AIDS and other STDs. Dr. Ogola says that the results of such ‘safe-sex’ indoctrination have been devastating to the young African population.
At a 1999 World Congress of Families in Geneva, she said that condoms have about a 30 percent failure rate and have facilitated the disregard of the traditional taboos surrounding sex outside marriage which in turn has lead to the AIDS epidemic throughout Africa.
In 2004, Dr. Hearst [University of California, San Francisco] gave a lecture on the alarming AIDS statistics in certain African countries. He says that as condom distribution numbers increase, so to do AIDS infection numbers increase at a similar rate. Hearst said that we are “raising a generation of young people in Africa that believe that condoms will prevent HIV." The numbers belie this belief and the young people of Africa are the victims that must suffer the consequences of such erroneous propaganda.
Uganda has one of the lowest AIDS rates in all of Africa. It dropped in recent years from a 30% rate to a 6% rate. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni attributes this success in curbing the AIDS epidemic to their ABC abstinence program which promotes abstinence and sex only within a monogamous marriage. Museveni says that AIDS will only be successfully combated with "optimal relationships based on love and trust instead of institutionalized mistrust which is what the condom is all about."
Ugandan first lady and Museveni’s wife, Janet Museveni, has spoken widely on abstinence and the failure of condoms. At a youth conference in Kampala, Museveni exposed the ‘condom-pushers’ as money hungry and told African youth, "Don't give your airtime to anyone talking to you about using condoms." Rather, she encouraged abstinence until marriage saying, “You can choose to fight AIDS by saying no and be able to stay alive.”
With Museveni’s financial accusation ringing in one’s ears, it is interesting to see the financial statistics surrounding condom manufacturing.
The New York Times article reports that a factory in Alabama retains most rights to the US government condom contract and is set to manufacture some 201 million condoms for this upcoming year. It charges 5 cents a condom. Foreign manufacturers in Korea and China that will make 100 million condoms each charge 2 cents a condom.
Michael Brumas, spokesman for the current Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions says, “What’s wrong with helping the American worker at the same time we are helping people around the world?”
As Bob Lester [former lawyer, United States Agency for International Development, USAID] said, “At the end of the day, it’s all a political process.” [Related: Condoms made in U.S. shape foreign aid policy http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/29/news/aid.php [EUFAULA, Alabama, 30Oct06, LifeSiteNews.com, Meg Jalsevac]