ETHIOPIA: Cappuccino with condom

Photo: Tesfalem Woldes/IRIN
From beauty queen to AIDS activist
Addis Ababa, 20 August 2008 (PlusNews) - Bellissima, on bustling Gabon Street in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, could be just another upmarket café, except that each order comes with a packet of 'Sensation' condoms, and is served in 'Sensation' cups by staff wearing 'Sensation' T-shirts.

"I wanted to link business with a message for sexually active people," Bellissima's owner, Hayat Ahmed, 26, told IRIN/PlusNews. "I am the brand ambassador for 'Sensation' condoms in Ethiopia, and I want to spread the message that condoms can protect you from HIV/AIDS."

Hayat, a former beauty queen, has been involved in HIV/AIDS campaigns since she was crowned Miss Ethiopia in 2003 and subsequently named an HIV/AIDS ambassador.

Her face adorns billboards and she regularly appears on Ethiopia's only television station promoting condom use. "When I walk down the road even children recognise me," she said. "But they do not call me Hayat; they call me 'Sensation'."

Modelled on 'condom bars' in Asia, Bellissima handed out six boxes of condoms, each containing 48 packets of three-in-a-pack, within two days of opening its doors.

The free condoms have elicited mixed reactions, with older patrons tending not to like the idea, while younger ones love it and sometimes ask for a second packet.

"We have had young people come in and ask 'Is it true that you actually give free condoms?' and when we say, 'yes', their faces brighten up and they quickly order," said one waiter. "But we have also had people who get shocked when we bring the bill with a condom, some saying we are promoting immorality."

Guests do not have to take the packs home when they leave the restaurant. "It is your choice to take it or leave it," Hayat said. "We also plan to set up condom vending machines in the toilets."

Her campaign is supported by social marketing groups such as the non-profit organisation, DKT-Ethiopia, which sold almost 60 million condoms in 2007 and also launched a coffee-flavoured version of Sensation condoms. Ethiopia is widely thought to be the birthplace of coffee and it is very popular.

Hayat intends to open more cafés in the capital and other towns, and continue promoting various anti-HIV strategies, including abstinence and faithfulness. She might even expand the 'condom bars' concept to other African countries.

Photo: Tesfalem Woldes/IRIN
A free three-pack of condoms comes with every bill
"A lot of people in Ethiopia are ashamed of talking about or using condoms," said. "Yet some companies put condoms in their toilets and when you go to look, each day, the boxes are empty. I don't care if the condoms are used behind closed doors or in public – as long as many people use them."

Ethiopia's HIV prevalence is estimated at over two percent among sexually active people aged 15 to 49. A report by the Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office in March noted that between 2000 and 2005, condom use among males increased from 30.3 percent to 51.9 percent, and among females from 13.4 percent to 23.6 percent.

According to Ethiopian government data, half the public sector institutions and 20 percent of private businesses have mainstreamed HIV/AIDS prevention in their operational policies.

However, Philopos Petros, head of the Ethiopian Civil Service College's HIV/AIDS management unit, noted that "There are still educated people exposed to HIV and dying of AIDS," and said greater awareness was necessary.

"One person cannot change the world, but I want to make a contribution," Hayat said. "I have a name and the will, and I will use that."


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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