Even as the D.C. Department of Health tries to broaden its condom distribution program by offering more expensive Trojan products, city officials have been struggling recently to supply condoms to non-profit organizations that partner with the city to battle HIV/AIDS, officials said Monday.
Michael Kharfen, a spokesman for the D.C. Department Health, said the city's supplier of Durex condoms recently withheld an expected shipment due to "billing issues from a previous invoice."
Advocates say the issue stems from the city failing to pay its bill on time. But Kharfen, noting the city has already distributed 2.5 million condoms so far this year, said the delay is a result of "paperwork" related to a "previous payment." He expects the problem to be resolved within days.
"It's just a paperwork thing," Kharfen said. "They were sending us invoices in a way that our accounting people had difficulty processing and had to resend us the bill again. It was just getting the paperwork fixed."
But Daniel F. O'Neill, chairman of the D.C. Center HIV Prevention Working, said the city also failed to ship condoms to many organizations in March. O'Neil, co-founder of the D.C. ToolK!T Campaign, said the current delay is particularly distressing because his and other organizations are trying to create tens of thousands of condom kits for next month's Capitol Pride celebrations.
"We rely on having a regular, reliable stream to keep our kits stocked so it's really troubling when our stock is out and people who rely on that for their protection don't have any there," O'Neill said.
Dr. Terry Gerace, another co-founder of the D.C. ToolK!T Campaign, emailed Kharfen on Friday threatening to abandon the Health Department's condom distribution program because of the delay.
"Frankly, I'm ready to fold up my tent and let those who get paid to deal with the HIV epidemic handle it," wrote Gerace, adding it will now be "impossible" for his group to package 30,000 condoms with lubricant and safety instructions in time for Pride. "It takes a month of volunteer packing to get that number ready, and this year we'll have about a week to do that."
Kharfen assures DC Wire the city is not out of condoms. Organizations that need them and can't wait for their monthly or quarterly shipment can receive them directly from the Department of Health.
"There is not going to be a problem with providing them sufficient condoms, " Kharfen.
Despite the self-described "billing issues," the District is on pace this year to hand out more than 4 million free condoms.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the city has also started offering Trojan and the company's super-sized Magnum after teenagers and college-aged adults complained about the quality and size of the Durex products.
While the Durex cost the city 5.7 cents per condom, the Trojan products will cost 6 to 9 cents (depending on size).
The city has also begun a program to ship up to 10 free condoms to any resident who requests them on line. The Department of Health had been receiving about five to 10 requests a day for free shipped condoms, but after The Post story ran the city was innudated with more than 200 requests, Kharfen said.
--- Tim Craig