$755 for condoms? Goods shortages driving up prices down south

Posted at 8:32 AM, Feb 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-06 10:33:08-05

Shortages of basic products such as corn, milk and chicken have plagued Venezuela for years, creating long lines at supermarkets and pushing inflation well past the 60-percent  mark just in the last year alone.

More recently, shortages are affecting people in the South American country in a more personal way. Venezuelan consumers complain condoms and birth control pills are nowhere to be found. Shortages that first affected the dining table have now made their way into the bedroom.

CNN visited eight pharmacies in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. Four had no condoms at all and the other four had limited availability. A couple only carried only one domestic brand.

Yuraima Bacher, a pharmacy manager, said her establishment doesn’t get supplies with the frequency they once did.

“Can you believe it? It’s been two weeks [since the last shipment]. Things have been slow since early January, and it’s been the same thing so far this month,” Bacher said.

Venezuelans are turning to Mercado Libre, or Free Market. It’s a website similar to eBay where consumers buy and sell all kinds of products.

One subscriber is selling a box of 36 condoms for 4,760 bolivars. That’s a whopping $755 U.S. dollars at the official exchange rate. It’s also 85 percent of the Venezuelan monthly minimum salary, currently at 5,602 bolivars.

President Nicolas Maduro announced in June his government was building a condom factory to supply the domestic market. The factory was built, but pharmacy managers say quality has not been what their customers demand. Production levels are not meeting domestic demand either.

Magdymar Leon, a coordinator at the Venezuelan Association for an Alternative Sexual Education, says public health experts worry the scarcity of contraception methods might have long-term consequences.

“What are the implications? One is that the individual doesn’t have the means to control a decision to have children or not. That right is lost. On the other hand, the ability to protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases is also lost,” Leon said.

A 2012 World Bank study shows Venezuela has the fifth-highest teen pregnancy rate out of 21 Latin American countries.

The HIV infection rate, at 0.6% of the general population, is also a serious concern for public health analysts, a risk than can only increase unless Venezuelan authorities take measures to address shortages of contraception methods.

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor for CNN