The woman behind Condomise Campaign

HARARE - After speaking her voice hoarse throughout the week-long International Conference on Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (Icasa) Bidia Deperthes can hardly go through another interview.

The diminutive UNFPA senior technical adviser on HIV has just concluded a two-week whirlwind tour of Harare where she addressed thousands of youths and led the initiative to distribute condoms.



Defying the fatigue she has endured in the past two weeks, the frank and gracious Senegalese mother of two gathered herself to give the Daily News one last interview before she heads back to her base in New York.

“I am a Christian, I believe in celibacy but the scientist in me feels this is my way of helping fight the scourge of HIV and Aids,” she says.

Her Condomise Campaign has captured the imagination of Zimbabwean liberals and conservatives alike but Deperthes would rather the campaign be remembered for changing perception and ultimately saving lives.

Her visit peaked at the oversubscribed Condomise Campaign that was illuminated by music, art and education.

Zimbabwe is struggling to contain the damaging and raging effects of HIV and Aids and 1,6 million of its citizens are positive — with only a fraction accessing the crucial medication needed to prolong life.

Deperthes believes condoms will be central if the world is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of ending Aids by 2030.

“We have to be pragmatic as parents and realistic. Yesterday we were young, did we abstain before marriage? 99 percent did not abstain. If God was before us, we would be exposed. Let’s be pragmatic. Let’s realise that we have to put a stop for people to see Africa as a statistic. I am an African and I am a mother.

“I don’t want my daughter to be counted among pregnant teenagers and my son to have STI…but to do that we have to be willing to educate and not to compromise.”

Nearly half of global new HIV infections in 2014 were in East and Southern Africa, with the highest burden of new infections being in young women and adolescent girls.

According to Unicef globally, there are 26 new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15-19 every minute.

In southern Africa, seven out of 10 of that number is made up by girls.

“The problem that we face in all African countries is the presence of mixed feelings about condoms. On one hand Africans want to be free from disease and infection but on the other hand they are conflicted by religion, tradition and values.

“In Africa sex is taboo and the condom is associated with sex and for some reason we don’t want to accept that these condoms can actually save lives.”

Born into a Muslim family in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, Deperthes’ parents divorced when she was barely a year-old and at 15 she converted to Christianity.

Although parental circumstances saw her only start school at the age of 9, she soon fell in love with medical science before studying Epidemiology — an investigation of factors that determine the presence or absence of diseases and disorders.

The Senegalese joined World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1998 to lead male and female condom effectiveness against STIs.

“In 2005, I was offered a position in New York to lead male and female condom programming in the fight against HIV.

“There was no such programme yet. Within three years the female condom distribution moved from 11 million to 50 million under my leadership in the world,” she says
The Condomise Campaign took off in 2010 at the Icasa meeting that was held in Vienna, Austria.

“We started to make noise about condoms and we developed The Condomise Campaign for the first time in 2010. Since that year, we have been going to different African countries, Congo DR, Burundi, Togo, Ethiopia, South Africa, Swaziland and now Harare,” she said.

Comments (2)

I appreciate all those efforts you did to prevent HIV but I feel the talk should be given as a package comprising OF abstinence, being faithful and then your that song of the condom. You will not be held responsible for what people choose but for what you preach. Like this there was a failure to deliver the package.. By and large it was a very good effort, those with ears have picked something I guess. Asante.

jacobine - 28 January 2016

you mean 1.6million Zimbos have HIV? Tjeeeee! Am baffled and extremely horrified and scared. Cry my beloved country, our leaders are failing us, its poverty, we were not a loose nation ooo tjeeeeee! We are finished, pliz Father God save our nation and our people...

jacobine - 28 January 2016

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