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Leon Kaye headshot

Athletes Score Free Anti-Zika Condoms for Rio Olympics

By Leon Kaye

The upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are festering plenty of worries, including unfinished infrastructure, the social and political instability in Brazil, and the fact that many companies are downplaying or avoiding involvement with the first Olympics held in South America. Then there are the ongoing fears and confusion over the Zika virus, which in the meantime piqued the interest of those who see economic opportunities in this health crisis.

The world still has not formulated a unified response to the Zika outbreak, and the suggestions on how to live in a world where Zika spreads are all over the map. Of course, there are the suggestions that abstinence can help stop the transmission of Zika. But that will not be the reality at an event where thousands of fit bodies will meet during an intense two-plus weeks in, of all nations, Brazil. One star athlete, U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, who at first said she would not go to the Rio Olympics over concerns about Zika, has changed her mind but said she will not leave her hotel room — but that will most likely not be the case for the estimated 10,000 athletes traveling to Brazil this August.

One Australian company, Starpharma Holdings, sees a branding opportunity with worries over Zika. The company announced that it will partner with the Australian condom manufacturer Ansell and supply the Australian Olympic team with condoms that the companies say can offer antiviral protection against Zika.

According to a Starpharma announcement made earlier this month, an antimicrobial agent included in one of its condom product lines, VivaGel, could prevent sexually transmitted infection from the Zika virus. The company did not mention the name of the organizations leading the laboratory studies, but the company’s CEO Dr. Jackie Fairley said this study could lead to a “significant commercial opportunity.” And these Ansell condoms with VivaGel lubricant will make their appearance in the Olympic Village.

Not everyone is convinced that condoms with an anti-Zika ingredient, whether rigorously tested or not, can make a difference in preventing the spread of the virus.

As Salon writer Kate Baggaley recently pointed out, the hype surrounding these condoms is not necessarily justified. The proper use of the condom, rather than the anti-viral ingredient added, is what most experts agree is key to preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Planned Parenthood has long held to the statistic that, when used correctly, condoms are 98 percent effective — but in real life, that rate falls to 82 percent as human error comes into play, as with any product or gadget. And the perceived hassle and inconvenience is why the Gates Foundation funded a grand challenge to develop next-gen condoms: But three years later, the outcome of that effort has largely been silence. Meanwhile, condom usage worldwide amongst men is pitifully low, while 2 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV in 2014.

Nevertheless, give Starpharma credit for thinking ahead. While the company says it is focused on providing the Aussie team with these free condoms, there should be plenty to pass around. According to press reports, 350,000 male condoms, 100,000 female condoms and 175,000 sachets of lubricant will be available at free vending machines in every Olympic Village building.

Image credit: Ansell

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye