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D.C. to install free-condom machines

The city of Washington, D.C., is implementing a plan to install machines dispensing free condoms in several government offices frequented by the public.

Health officials say the move is meant to stem the spread of AIDS in the nation’s capital, which faces the highest incidence of the disease in the U.S., reports the Washington Post.

“[The dispensers are] going to be as common as water fountains,” Ivan O. Torres, interim director of the city’s HIV/AIDS administration, told the paper. “The mayor is committed to this. … This is no longer something to be ashamed of. It affects all of us.”

According to the report, the machines offering free condoms will be installed at the D.C. Housing Authority, the departments of human services, motor vehicles, public works and other offices.

In the next 12 months, the city plans to pass out about 550,000 male condoms, 45,000 latex dental dams and about 30,000 female condoms, the Post reports. Male condoms cost the city less than a nickel apiece, and female condoms cost several dollars each.

While members of the Washington City Council were enthusiastic about the plan, some analysts questioned the logic of handing out taxpayer-funded prophylactics.

“I’m not aware of any evidence that that sort of activity has a positive effect,” Robert E. Rector, a family-issues researcher at the Heritage Foundation, told the paper. “The No. 1 determinant of whether a person will catch a sexually transmitted disease is the number of lifetime sexual partners. We seem to go out of our way as a government and a nation to avoid telling people that, but we hand out a lot of free condoms.”

The city already has a distribution program covering public schools, beauty salons, barbershops and nightclubs.

Former Rep. Tom Coburn, a physician and author of “Breach of Trust,” is co-chairman of a presidential AIDS panel and a critic of the plan.

“We used to think condoms were fairly effective,” the Post quotes Coburn as saying. “If used perfectly, they are probably 94 or 95 percent effective, but we’re human, and we don’t use them perfectly. … The city would be much better off spending its money getting people tested, treated and counseled not to give the virus to others.”

Torres disputed Coburn’s opinion.

“We preach [abstinence], but we have to deal with reality as public health professionals and can’t deal with ideological platitudes,” he told the paper. “Some people do not choose abstinence.”

According to the report, about 8,000 D.C. residents have AIDS.