A dispatcher for ABC Taxi in Brandon, Man., recently received a call asking, “Are you the cabs with the condoms?” It wasn’t a crank call. ABC is one of two taxi companies in Brandon (the other is Tasmanian Taxi) who have agreed to make free condoms available to late-night customers as part of a public health program to promote awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The “Take Care Down There” campaign is a broad initiative that includes billboards promoting condom use and STI tests both downtown and in residential areas, and featuring ads in English, Russian, Mandarin and Spanish. Darlene McDonald, a public health nurse with the Brandon Regional Health Authority, says, “It’s new for us to be that visible with messaging about sexual stuff,” adding that, unlike controversial condom-distribution programs in schools, there’s been no negative feedback so far.
Manitoba has the highest rate of STIs in Canada: between January and October of 2009, there were 5,433 cases of chlamydia, which amounts to 0.47 per cent of Manitoba’s population. Numbers for gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV are also on the rise—though the jump may be largely due to an increase in provincial funding that has made STI tests more accessible.
The condoms-in-cabs program had a soft launch before Christmas, and a full media campaign was unveiled last week. They’ll only be available in certain cabs, and only from Thursday to Saturday—presumably prime time for spontaneous sexual encounters. The condoms are held in a cut-out blue-jean pocket, which is attached to a sling draped over the back of the driver’s seat to be discreet and easily accessible for the cab’s carnal customers.