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February 25, 2009

Anna Kournikova Goes Condom Shopping for a Cause


by Kevin Doyle

What is Anna Kournikova doing in Haiti buying condoms?  And how was I lucky enough to live out a fantasy shared by millions of young men around the world?  Find out after the jump.

Last week I found myself condom shopping with Anna Kournikova. But that's where the fantasy ends and hard reality begins. The former tennis star (and current celebrity sex symbol) and I were traveling in Haiti with Population Services International (PSI), a nonprofit group that's waging a global war against malaria, HIV, and child mortality.

PSI's ammunition in this battle is a combination of education and public-awareness campaigns, as well as malaria nets, water purification products and, yes, condoms, all of which it sells at extremely subsidized prices, or, as is often the case in Haiti, gives away to those too poor to pay. Anna's condom purchase was a symbolic one, to show the relative ease of preventing the spread of HIV--a message PSI drives home in the more than 60 countries in which it operates.

Condé Nast Traveler joined forces with PSI last year and has raised nearly $1 million to support its Five & Alive program, which is focused on the children's health. I've heard plenty about PSI's work around the world, but never fully understood the impact it's making until I saw some of its projects firsthand.

But before I get to that, let me give you a little background on Haiti. The island was a Caribbean holiday destination for the rich and famous in the 1960s, but corrupt government, environmental disasters and other misfortunes have left it a shell of its former self. It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with most of its 9 million inhabitants living on less than 50 cents a day. Fewer than 1 in ten people has running water, there's not a sewer in the country, and the average life expectancy is 52. The mountains and lowlands have been stripped bare of timber (the locals use it to make charcoal to cook with) and soil erosion has left stark deserts where forests once stood.

The fact that this wasteland is a one-hour flight from Miami and just across a mountain range from the luxury resorts and golf courses of the Dominican Republic makes it all the more disorienting and poignant. But the tremendous hope I witnessed in Haiti was even more overwhelming than the poverty.  Stay tuned for my post about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I'd love to know: Have you ever traveled to an impoverished country for a vacation? How did it affect your experience?


Concerning the article concerning Anna Kournikova and her being in Haiti I would like to make a serious comment. I have been practicing medicine in Haiti now for more than 20 years and have often purchased condoms, and all types of birth control from PCI but recently they have made a rule (I think for their own convenience) that in order to purchase from them (PCI gets their medicine free from USAID which is another way of saying US taxpayers)you must purchase at least 10 cases at a time. This requirement is making it almost impossible for most suppliers and drug stores to purchase these needed things. I personally tried to find a place to purchase birth control pills recently for distribution at our clinic and due to this requirement I found NO pharmacies in the city of Petionville who had any of the birth control on stock. I would hope that USAID would be able to do something about this problem.

As a social marketing organization, one of PSI/Haiti's objectives is to build a strong and sustainable distribution system. Just as with the private sector, the distribution system has price points built in at different levels (wholesale and retail) in order to motivate the movement of products. To support this, PSI sells products directly only to wholesalers, which in turn sell to retailers, which sell to consumers. PSI does not sell directly to retailers or to consumers, since this would put us in competition with our wholesalers and with their retailers. In addition, working in this way helps to stimulate the local economy. PSI uses the commercial market in Haiti and around the world to reach the greatest number of people in the most targeted manner possible.

PSI does set minimum purchase quantities for wholesalers. This ensures that wholesalers 1. have the capacity to stock large amounts of product and 2. have real distribution networks. Without this minimum quantity, anyone could purchase products at PSI at the wholesale price and we would constantly undercut the distribution system. When customers contact PSI to purchase smaller amounts, we refer them to one of our partner companies in the distribution chain.

We are sorry that you have been unable to find oral contraceptives in Petionville. Our wholesaler Medinec, located on Rue Lamarre, can provide oral and injectable contraceptives to retailers in smaller quantities. Both Chez Moise (#3 Rue Panamericaine) and Exael stores (Rue Gregoire, zone cimetiere) sell smaller quantities of Pante male condoms to retailers.

Retail outlets where customers may buy even smaller (ie, individual) quantities of oral and injectable contraceptives, as well as Pante condoms, include:

Pharmacie Sophia, Rue Gregoire
Multipharma, Rue Lamarre
Pharmacie du Bourg, zone cimetiere
Pharmacie Sion, Morne Hercule
Pharmacie St Pierre, rue Gregoire
BioPharma, rue Rigaud

Please do not hesitate to contact PSI/Haiti at (509) 2256-9040 (41-45) if you need additional information.

Shannon Bledsoe
PSI/Haiti Country Representative

Great story. I didn't know she was involved in things like this. She is like a condom superhero.

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