Portuguese students received a record number of condoms as they started their recent ‘fresher’ week at university. The National Commission for the Battle Against Aids (CNLCS) has distributed six million condoms this year, an increase of 50 per cent on the four million offered last year. Indications are that young people are starting to heed warnings about sexually transmitted diseases and becoming more careful about protection.
CNLCS has announced that they distributed an average of 3,000 condoms to each university they visited during ‘fresher’ week, which ran from September 24 to 31. Catarina Soares, from the Academic Federation of Porto (FAP), said that, although she had not requested the condoms, she welcomed their distribution to students. A similar response came from the universities of Minho, Coimbra and the Algarve, as well as Bragança Polytechnic.
International events such as Euro 2004 and Rock in Rio were also important factors this year – a total of 1.6 million condoms were distributed between July 4 and August 30, a period in which Portugal received many visitors from overseas. “Happily, condoms have become fairly banal among young people, a sign that they are becoming more sensible about the problem of HIV,” said Paulo Nossa, the official responsible for the CNLCS anti-Aids prevention programme.
Recent figures about Aids in Portugal reveal that, up to June 30 this year, 11,263 people were diagnosed with the illness, while the number of people infected with HIV stood at 24,776. Statistics show that there has been a decrease in new cases of infection in young people aged between 20 and 34. The number of HIV cases diagnosed was 432 in 2001, falling to 389 in 2002 and 266 cases last year. In the first six months of this year, 73 young people were diagnosed as being infected with HIV.
‘Fresher’ week at the universities of Minho and Aveiro was marked by the distribution of condoms. “It has almost become a pre-requisite of the induction week, forming part of the package that includes the fresher week guides, academic week plans and the student code of conduct,” said Jorge Cristino, president of the Association of Minho University. In Aveiro, the so-called ‘fresher pack’ also contains a diary and a CD-Rom with information about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Hugo Rodrigues, the official responsible for the packs’ promotion, said they only requested 2,000 condoms, but many more were distributed.
Another change in strategy is that condom-vending machines will also soon be available in secondary schools. The measure, somewhat controversial, is still to be implemented. “We are going to have a meeting with the Ministry of Education and hope we will be able to start soon,” said Albino Almeida, president of the National Confederation of Parents’ Associations, a group that welcomes the introduction of the machines.
An organisation endorsing the new measure is the JSD (Young Social Democrats) of Madeira. “We want this introduced in secondary schools because it is an effective form of prevention,” explains Jaime Filipe Ramos, president of the island’s regional party. “In the interim we have to deal with the attitude of the church that is against this measure and has tried to make things difficult for us,” he noted, in a reference to the Catholic church’s opposition to abortion and contraception.