Condom distribution initiatives have the potential to decrease sexually transmitted infections (STIs) by increasing the availability, accessibility, and acceptability of condoms. The Women’s Fund of Omaha (WFO), a non-profit organization in Omaha, Nebraska, launched the Adolescent Health Project in 2015 to reduce high rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among youth aged 15-24 in Omaha. One component of the Adolescent Health Project is a community-wide condom distribution initiative. In an article published in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) titled “Promoting condom use through a youth-focused community-wide free condom distribution”, Dr. Melissa Tibbits and her team describe the implementation and provide and evaluation of this initiative.
Dr. Tibbits explains that to ensure availability of condoms, seven healthcare organizations received grants from the WFO to distribute free condoms in their clinics, to distribute condoms through outreach, and to establish and maintain condom boxes branded with the Adolescent Health Project logo, Get Checked Omaha, at a variety of businesses. To increase accessibility, grantees trained businesses serving as distribution locations to place condoms in areas that youth would be able to access without staff assistance. To promote acceptability, the WFO also concurrently implemented several short-term media campaigns encouraging condom use.
The number of condom distribution locations increased substantially over time, from 30 locations September 2015 to 197 locations February 2018. Most condom distribution locations are located in zip codes with high Chlamydia rates, although some are located in low rate zip codes to normalize condom use and increase access across Omaha. Distribution locations included 36 barbershops and salons, 32 bars and restaurants, 29 social service agencies, 16 clinics, 16 retail stores, 12 tattoo and piercing shops, and 10 mental and behavioral health providers. There was a steady increase in the number of condoms distributed with a range of 9,840 September 2015 to a high of 167,017 in January 2018.
Dr. Tibbits concludes: “This study suggests that there is a high demand for condoms. Offering free condoms in a coordinated manner at a variety of clinical and business locations in combination with outreach and media campaigns has the potential to increase access to condoms. Communities seeking to implement condom distribution initiatives should include a variety of community partners and businesses in order to reach priority populations and to normalize condom use.”