JOHANNESBURG – South Africa is recalling 1.35 million condoms given away at the African National Congress party's centenary celebrations amid charges some broke during intercourse and others were porous, an official said Tuesday.
AIDS activist Sello Mokhalipi of the Treatment Action Campaign said he complained after "we had people flocking in, coming to report that the condoms had burst while they were having sex."
Some were panicking because they were infected with AIDS and were concerned for their partners, he said.
Spokesman Jabu Mbalula of the health department of Free State province, which distributed the condoms before the Jan. 6-8 celebrations, said they had recalled the entire batch of 1,350,000 condoms around Jan. 18. He said there was no need for a panic.
But he was unable to say immediately how many of the condoms were used or have been recovered.
In 2007, the government had to recall more than 20 million defective condoms manufactured locally. Media reports said a testing manager at the South African Bureau of Standards had taken a bribe to certify the faulty condoms. In 2008 another 5 million defective condoms were recalled.
The latest allegations involve condoms distributed to hotels and bars in the central city of Bloemfontein, where tens of thousands of people traveled from all over the country for the ANC celebrations. South Africa has the world's highest number of AIDS victims at 5.6 million.
Mokhalipi said the complaints started coming in Jan. 11, prompting his office to run tests on some of the allegedly flawed condoms.
"We poured water into the condoms and they were leaking, not just in one place, they were leaking like a sieve," he said. Looking at them, "you can see there are small pores."
He said the health department had distributed a new batch of condoms last week, which did not leak under the water test.
Health department spokesman Mbalula said pouring water into a condom and applying pressure was not a proper test, though Mokhalipi denied applying pressure.
Mbalula said his department recalled the contraceptives to conduct scientific tests. He did not know when the results of the tests would be available.
He noted that all the condoms were stamped to indicate that they were in batches that had been quality tested by the South African Bureau of Standards, which is responsible for ensuring they meet the standards of the World Health Organization. Bureau spokeswoman Verna Schutte confirmed that they were investigating the condoms.
The AIDS activist, Mokhalipi, said the recall was limited to department workers going to the hotels, guesthouses and bars where they had deposited the condoms and reclaiming any that remained.
He complained that the health department had not issued countrywide warnings to alert people not to use condoms distributed during the celebrations in Bloemfontein. "People came from all over and probably took many away with them, so those condoms are now all over the country," he said.
Those who had used condoms that allegedly had burst should be told to get post-exposure tests and treatment, he said.
"We want the department to go out and tell people about these faulty condoms," Mokhalipi said. "How can they say people should not panic if there are still clearly people out there in possession of these condoms."
South Africa's government sources its condoms from several companies and rebrands them with its colorful CHOICE packaging, in bright blue, red, yellow and green. The government distributed more than 400 million free condoms in 2010.