On Valentine's Day of this year, New Yorkers were encouraged by the Health Department to “Get Some.” The unveiling of free latex condoms throughout New York City's railways was an example of marketing at its best, courtesy of the city's Health Department and its Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). These condoms are of the highest-quality (purchased from the LifeStyles corporation) and bare the logos of New York City trains on their wrappers. The design is intended to attract New York's straphangers in hopes that they will help themselves to prevention. Health Commissioner Thomas Freiden doesn't mind a little gliltz for a good cause. He acknowledges, “[b]rands work. They increase use.” Health officials hope a fun, sexy and free marketing approach will result in the decline of sexually transmitted infections (STI) among New Yorkers.
The instant where parasite meets host-cell has translated into enduring health struggles many people living in New York. Studies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict over 100 million people who ride the MTA (in a given day) are unaware they are infected with the HIV virus. HIV/AIDS infections have reached epidemic measures throughout the city. Prevalence of STI's in New York City are consistently among the highest in the country. The actions of New York's Department of Health reflect that of a responsible public office. It has allotted its citizens access to life-preserving tools by following the preceding endeavors such as, BYOC (bring your own condom), where high-traffic atmospheres (ie, restaurants, retailers, bars, clubs and.... the subway) are used to the advantage of contraceptive distribution.
Or, are they encouraging “inappropriate sexual activity?” Catholic leaders have expressed concerns of New York's agenda to increase condom distribution. Edward Cardinal Egan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio have voiced criticism against the city's decision to distribute 26 million condoms, regarding it as “tragic and misguided.” They have voiced concern for the integrity of New York's “societal standards” and reject the “blanketing”of neighborhoods with condoms. Their concerns were heard by New York City's Mayor Mike Bloomberg who disagreed with the views. "This is not an issue of faith - this is a health issue for the city.” “[T]he Health Department has to work with the real world of people not practicing protected sex, not practicing abstinence, and this is a way to keep people alive.”
Surprisingly, I am in agreement with Mayor Bloomberg. As the issue demanded, he has come to understand the gravity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York and has recognized time as a crucial factor. His response to reality, and neglect—if only temporary—of ideology is a deviation from his typically conservative perspective. While ethical concerns are appropriate, they will likely remain secondary to the reality of a public health crisis.
Having observed New York's efforts first hand, I feel an effective pursuit will be more aggressive. I've yet to see any NYC condoms and have heard little of them outside of media reports. For more enduring effect, efforts should continue to strive to permeate the public. I would urge the Health Department to join forces with club owners and promoters to educate the public and distribute contraceptives throughout New York's nightlife. I feel the public would embrace such efforts and will increasingly become involved in the maintenance of their health.
Here are several articles reflecting media coverage of NYC condoms: