By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2007 9:44 PM
A contingent of 350,000 Trojans is heading toward the District -- to help salvage the city's battered condom distribution program in its fight against HIV and AIDS.
The donation by the New Jersey company that manufactures the well-known brand should arrive by the end of the month, a spokesperson for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said. City officials expect it to supplement rather than supplant the hundreds of thousands of free condoms the Health Department has dispensed to local organizations and clinics since February.
Last week, reports on complaints about those condoms' packaging prompted officials to defend their safety and effectiveness even while acknowledging the community's negative reaction. Health director Gregg A. Pane announced that the HIV/AIDS Adminstration was now evaluating its program, including "feedback on the quality of the condoms and receptivity by clients."
A host of organizations on the front lines of the battle against the disease have been invited to a meeting Thursday morning at the administration headquarters to discuss the situation.
But the Trojans likely will come to the rescue faster than changes can be made. The shipment, first noted online by the Washington Blade, is being sent by Church & Dwight Co., Inc., of Princeton. The company has pegged the condoms retail value at $290,000, according to city officials.
"It's a goodwill gesture," the incoming HIV/AIDS administrator, Shannon Hader, said yesterday afternoon. "I hope this will be an opportunity to separate confidence and function from preference and image. They really get blurred."
Groups involved in the distribution effort are applauding the donation, especially given Trojans' public image.
"We're moving in the right direction," said David Mariner of D.C. Fights Back. "There's been such scrutiny of D.C.'s condoms that it's necessary to use name-brand condoms going forward."
But he, like others, cautioned that future dispensing has to be done in more strategic ways. City officials cannot say how many condoms have actually been handed out, much less to whom. "For me, it's a question of, do we have a plan in place to get these condoms into the hands of the people who need them?" Mariner noted.
Hader agreed. The District's program must be honed with the goal being moving the condoms quickly from "distribution point to people.
"That's going to be a really important part of an overall logistics and distribution plan," she said.