By Bate Felix
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 28 (Reuters) - South Africa’s health department said on Tuesday it has recalled 20 million potentially defective condoms approved by an official accused of taking bribes from a manufacturer.
Unsafe sex is especially risky in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates with an estimated 12 percent of its 47 million people infected with the virus.
There are up to 1,000 AIDS-related deaths in South Africa every day and free condom distribution is a crucial part of the government’s efforts to combat the spread of the epidemic.
"An official of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), has put millions of people at risk by illegally passing millions of condoms, which had not met the quality assurance requirements," said health department spokesman Sibani Mngadi.
Mngadi said even though only a batch of 7 million condoms was affected, the department decided to recall all 20 million condoms supplied by the manufacturer since last year, and will no longer be dealing with that company.
The SABS official accused of taking bribes and two directors of the manufacturing company have been arrested and are out on bail, said the spokesman. They will be appearing in a Pretoria court on Sept. 10 to face charges of corruption and fraud.
The condoms did not meet several standard tests for strength, pressure and lubrication, said Mngadi.
The SABS Web site alerted the public, saying the faulty condoms were distributed by brand names including Ultramour, Randy Rat and Positions.
SABS said it had instructed Latex Surgical Products (LSP) to recall the condoms and that it would take legal action against the manufacturer.
The Health Department is also recalling condoms produced by LSP from its national HIV/AIDS supply chain.
LSP was not immediately available to comment.
Besides a struggling health-care system characterised by a lack of doctors and nurses, many of whom have left the country for better pay abroad, the fight against AIDS has been hampered by conflicting messages from senior government officials.
Researchers, scientists and health-care workers said in a conference in South Africa in June that they were encouraged by the government’s fresh approach to the crisis and improved weapons to protect those most at risk of infection.
But fresh controversy over the government’s AIDS policies has erupted.
President Thabo Mbeki sacked Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge this month for insubordination, sparking an outcry from AIDS activists who strongly backed her policies and critics who say she was fired for political reasons.
Madlala-Routledge had clashed with Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, dubbed "Dr Beetroot", who had horrified AIDS activists with her advocacy of garlic, lemon and African potatoes over conventional anti-retroviral drugs.
The health department said it does not know how many of the defective condoms have been used, and it is urging the public to return them.