There’s *ahem* a new shortage in town.
Most industries have been dramatically disrupted by severe restrictions imposed by their local governments intended to curb the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Manufacturing is perhaps the most affected since it relies heavily on physical labor and supply chains. This means that in these early months of lockdown, there are far fewer consumer goods being produced, from automobiles to condoms.
While it’s not necessarily a tragedy that fewer cars are being sold, a global shortage of condoms could cascade into a series of disastrous consequences for public health and family planning.
Karex is one of the world’s most important manufacturers of condoms in the world. The Malaysia-based company is responsible for one in every five condoms sold or freely distributed in the world. But also the country’s population comes to terms with an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown, production has faltered.
Now, Karex expects to deliver roughly 200 million fewer condoms than it normally would for March and April, as three of its main factories have been forced to shut down since Malaysia entered lockdown on April 14th.
Disruptions in global supply chains have also decreased output in condom manufacturing as rubber, an essential raw material is less readily available.
“The world will definitely see a condom shortage,” Goh Miah Kiat, the CEO of Karex, told AFP.
“It’s challenging, but we are trying our best right now to do whatever we can. It is definitely a major concern—condom is an essential medical device.”
“While we are fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also other serious issues that we need to look at,” he added.
While supply is taking a hit, demand seems to be skyrocketing. With nearly half of the world’s population under orders to stay home, many couples now spend more time together, which increases the likelihood of intercourse happening. In India, condom sales have jumped by as much as 30% since the country imposed its own lockdown.
A shortage of condoms could pose important consequences to public health, especially in developing countries. Besides unwanted pregnancies, poor access to contraceptives is linked to an increase in sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.
The UN is one of the world’s largest distributors of free condoms, and recently the agency announced that it now receives only about 50-60% of the supplies it usually receives.
“A shortage of condoms, or any contraceptive, could lead to an increase in unintended pregnancies, with potentially devastating health and social consequences for adolescent girls, women and their partners and families,” said an UN spokesperson.
The dent in condom manufacturing is being partially compensated by China, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. While the rest of the world is experiencing the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, China seems to have recovered somewhat, with social distancing and quarantine restrictions gradually lifting. Many factories have resumed production, although most have yet to reach the peak performance seen prior to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
HPM Protections, a Chinese manufacturer which used to make one billion condoms each year, says that production is almost back to normal. In fact, the company plans to expand and triple the number of production lines by the end of the year. China is also poised to increase its exports of rubber, which might also help to offset some of the condom shortage.