A new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS suggests that even when people use condoms consistently, condoms fail to protect against HIV exposure 10% of the time due to incorrect usage and human error, The Boston Globe reports. UNAIDS researchers examined 20 years of scientific literature on condoms and concluded that the failure rate is not linked to defects in the condoms but to human errors. The most common errors noted in the report were a failure to leave room at the tip of the condom to collect semen; a failure to use lubrication, which can lessen the chances of condoms breaking; and a failure to put on a condom before any genital contact. The report also suggested that the failure rate of condoms to prevent pregnancies is also likely 10%, due to the same human errors. In light of the report's findings, UNAIDS has called for more education on how to properly use condoms to be included in HIV prevention outreach.
The report contradicts studies and claims made by other groups on condom usage, some of which assert that condoms are nearly 100% effective in preventing HIV exposure. Population Action International in a September 2002 report concluded that condoms "block contact with bodily fluids that can carry the HIV virus and have a nearly 100% effectiveness when used correctly and consistently." PAI researchers, commenting on the UNAIDS study, say their conclusions are accurate because they report that condoms are effective when used correctly and that the UNAIDS report focused on human errors associated with condom use. They also worry that the new UNAIDS report will be used by conservative groups and those promoting abstinence to further claim that condoms are ineffective in preventing HIV infections and to push for less funding for condom distribution programs. "We are in the midst of a battle in which the opposition seeks to exclude condoms from the mix of HIV prevention," Terri Bartlett, PAI vice president for public policy, told the Globe. "It's an old saying, but vows of abstinence break more often than condoms."