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Condom Cafe at front-line of awareness campaign
Friday 15 April 2005
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COTE D IVOIRE: Condom Cafe at front-line of awareness campaign


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]



©  IRIN

The Condom Cafe in Abidjan

ABIDJAN, 18 January (PLUSNEWS) - At the Condom Cafe in Abidjan, customers don’t get after-dinner mints with their bill. Instead they leave with an AIDS goodie bag, complete with red ribbon, a leaflet about the disease and a free condom.

The cafe, known by the locals as Kpote Kiosque, has been serving up snacks and safe sex for the last three years in Adjame, a run-down suburb of Cote d’Ivoire’s main city Abidjan.

From the outside it looks like any of the open-air 'maquis' restaurants found on many a street corner in the city. The only hint of anything out of the ordinary is a faded red ribbon painted on the roof.

Once inside, however, the décor starts to offer more clues.

Dotted between the regular adverts for Coca-Cola and Flag beer hanging from the ceiling, empty condom packets sway in the breeze. Stacked up in one corner of the counter are wooden penises. And painted across the bar is the slogan "Don't have a condom? Keep your pants on."

Kpote Kiosque is not just about free condoms. It aims to raise the public's awareness about HIV/AIDS via its trained team of young waiters and waitresses, some of whom are HIV-positive themselves.

It also provides an informal setting for young people to seek advice about testing and treatment.

"You don't feel like it's being forced in your face. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere," said one customer, who gave his name as Herve.

And even for those who know all there is to know about HIV/AIDS, there is still a reason to come - to help raise funds for grassroots AIDS projects.

"Everyone's a winner. We eat the great food and they get much-needed cash," Koua, one 27-year-old diner, said between mouthfuls.

"It's not a case of making a one-off donation and that's that. Each time you are hungry, you have the chance to help," the bank clerk, who works round the corner and is a regular customer, told PlusNews.

The small café, which pulls in an average of 70 customers every lunchtime, has been such a success that it is about to be copied in three other West African countries.

But it is in Cote d’Ivoire, which has the highest prevalence rate in West Africa, that the fiercest fight against the epidemic has to be waged.

The last government survey put the prevalence rate at 9.5 percent. However, after almost two and a half years of civil war, many health workers fear that the disease has made much greater inroads.

Cutting through misconceptions

Debunking the myths, tackling the taboos and educating people about how to protect themselves is a crucial part of the fight against HIV/AIDS here, and a visit to the café at the end of the lunchtime rush shows why.

A group of builders have polished off the last of their food, oblivious to the theme of their chosen cafe. When the free condoms arrive with the bill, eyebrows are raised.

"People are always saying 'Use condoms and you won't get AIDS' but people are using them and the AIDS problem is getting worse. I think it's maybe got something to do with the condoms," one of the men remarks to the waiter.

The waiter, cracking jokes as he goes, explains condoms do protect you against HIV, but problems can still arise if people fail to use them properly.

According to the café’s manager, Olivier Kouassi, it's a scenario that is played out regularly.

"People are often surprised when we put the condom on the table. Some even get embarrassed and try to knock it onto the floor. But in the end, it usually arouses their curiosity and sparks a conversation," he told PlusNews.

"And that's the key thing - we need to get people talking about this," he added.

The scale of the AIDS problem in Cote d'Ivoire is something that has touched Kouassi personally. One of his best friends died of AIDS in 2004. Just this month, he took another cousin to get tested.

The Kpote Kiosque where he works is the brainchild of an Ivorian non-governmental organisation, Ruban Rouge (Red Ribbon). Buoyed by the cafe's success, the group are about to open a branch in the Abidjan suburb of Niangon.

Model for other countries

And the venture has captured the imagination further afield too, with Kpote Kiosques set to be unveiled in Senegal, Niger and Benin by March.

The Paris-based aid agency Equilibres & Populations, which helped Ruban Rouge get the first cafe up and running, is footing the bill and co-ordinating the regional pilot programme which will run until the end of 2006.

The overall start-up budget for the four new cafes is around 300,000 euros (US $393,000). That includes money to look at the impact each establishment has on the local community, something which has only been done on an anecdotal basis at the original cafe in Adjame.

"We've had people coming into our main clinic, and when they were asked where they'd heard of Ruban Rouge a few of them mentioned the cafe," said the group's president Marius Boka. "But we've not kept figures on it."

Aurelie Gal, the project co-ordinator for Equilibres & Populations, says the regional project will go one step further by keeping track of which customers go on to seek advice at a clinic or get tested. It will also track public perceptions in the neighbourhoods where the cafes are based.

"In urban areas ... circumstances can encourage people and especially the young to adopt a sexual behaviour that carries certain risks," Gal told PlusNews by phone from Paris.

Fifteen to 24-year-olds currently account for half of all new HIV infections, according to JADE, the regional youth network to which the African groups managing all four of the planned new cafes belong.

"Local youth associations are often the catalyst for innovative preventative initiatives," Gal explained. "And the fact that the Kpote Kiosque structure generates its own revenues, means the association can continue to run its projects in the long-term without having to depend on outsiders."

The Kpote Kiosque in Adjame, for example, not only makes enough money to pay the rent, the bills and its staff's wages to keep the interactive awareness campaign running. There is also a small profit at the end of each month.

While 70,000 CFA ($140) a month might seem paltry by western standards, Ruban Rouge's chairman explains how the money allows them to pay for antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for hardship cases who end up at the group's clinic.

The cost of three months of ARV treatment in Cote d'Ivoire was slashed to just 5,000 CFA ($10)last year, so via the Kiosque, the group can pay for treatment for more than 40 people every year.

If the cafes in the big cities of Dakar, Niamey and Cotonou can repeat the success of the original fast food and free condom formula, smaller towns across Senegal, Niger, Benin and Cote d’Ivoire could soon see a branch springing up on their doorstep.

And Equilibres & Populations say Chad, Mali, Guinea and Togo might provide fertile ground for a second wave of expansion.

Back at the original Adjame branch in Abidjan, manager Kouassi, has just one word of advice.

"You need to have plenty of condoms. Sometime the idea almost works too well," he laughed. "We give people one and they want the whole packet."

[ENDS]


 
Recent COTE D IVOIRE Reports
Doctor concerned by high HIV prevalence rate in forgotten northeast,  15/Mar/05
Children's book tackles AIDS, death and rejection for under-11s,  8/Mar/05
Roadmap against AIDS needs re-think due to war, poverty,  14/Feb/05
HIV/AIDS time-bomb ticking away in rebel north,  11/Feb/05
Tackling the 'Illness of Unknown Origin' with 'pockets of rubber',  8/Feb/05
Links
AIDS Media Center
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
VIH Internet
Sida Info Services
Aides

PlusNews does not take responsibility for info in links supplied.


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