Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

LA-themed condom campaign aims to spread awareness, stop disease

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There's a new condom in town and it's dressed up for its Los Angeles-debut — in a bow tie.

It also has the line "suit up," and is part of an effort by the L.A. County Department of Public Health to stop the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

This condom design was selected last year from 500 entries, as part of a competition launched by the health department. And what better way to distribute the condoms than in a 40-foot-Condom Mobile, which made its grand debut last weekend at Long Beach Pride.

The RV is covered in images of shirtless, athletic-looking men with the slogan "Game on. Suit up L.A." written underneath them. With the help of the Lambda Basketball League and the L.A. Condom street team, more than 8,000 L.A. condoms were distributed over the course of two days.

According to public health statistics, about 2,000 new HIV infections occur each year in L.A. County. In 2011, there were more than 60,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis combined.

According to Effective Interventions: "An effective condom distribution program can change the way a community thinks about and engages in safe sex behavior. To achieve that goal, condom distribution programs should strive to make condoms available, accessible, and acceptable."

So the department has launched a dual prong approach — distributing highly visible condoms and launching a website last year called L.A. Sex Symbol. The website contains information on male and female condoms, as well as resources on where to find condoms throughout the county for free.

Proper and consistent use of condoms is a highly effective way to stop the spread of STDs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), laboratory studies have shown that latex condoms create "an essentially impermeable barrier to particles the size of STD pathogens."

This includes HIV, and  health officials say that real-life settings have shown that when one partner is infected with HIV and the other is not, regularly using latex condoms provides a "high degree of protection." 

Los Angeles is following suit behind other major U.S. cities such as Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia, who each have their own condom distribution programs that try to take the taboo out of words like condoms and HIV. 

Felix Aguilar is the chief medical officer at the South Central Family Health Center. He said at his clinic in South L.A., they try to teach people that HIV isn't a disease only associated with a specific kind of person or behavior.

“We try to de-stigmatize HIV and HIV testing,” Aguilar said last year, explaining how the clinic tries to do this by incorporating the test into the standard list of STD testing.

But one of the best ways to protect yourself against HIV is wearing a condom. And L.A.'s new condom campaign aims to distribute 1 million and one condoms by the end of year.

The health department is going to get some help reaching that number through gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sports leagues. Organizations including Lambda Basketball, the Los Angeles Flag Football League and The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association, have signed on to distribute some free condoms as well.

“Since 1978, we’ve been a safe place for the LGBT community to play competitive softball,” said Ken Scearce, commissioner of The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association, in a statement. “HIV is still a reality in our community and condoms are still the most effective way to prevent it. So, we’re happy to spread the word and distribute some free condoms during Pride season and at our upcoming events.”

The Condom Mobile will be rolling through downtown L.A. this weekend for Summertramp, and at L.A. Pride on June 9.

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