Revealing behind the scene work to keep sex safe
If you were to tell most Namibians that Namibia has its own condom manufacturer, you are most likely to be asked to provide proof before anyone can believe you. But although no locally-produced condoms are on the shelves in shops, production of condoms are in full-swing in Namibia. As production manager of the country’s only condom manufacturer Commodity Exchange, Production Manager Wilbur Van Wyk told The Patriot that while the prophylactics industry is small compared with the glove manufacturers worldwide, there are opportunities.
At the factory in Prosperita, Windhoek, the condoms made must be inflated, stretched and filled with water to test their durability before dispatch, Van Wyk explained while taking this newspaper on a tour at the world-class facility this week. The tour was to see how the contraceptive is made, tested and packaged. Like any other medical equipment production processes, condom production is highly sensitive, from the equipment, staff and ensuring that there is a conducive environment for operations.At the turn of the century, sex was the biggest contributor of the skyrocketing HIV/AIDS statistics in Namibia. The situation became so dire that in 2002 government started distributing condoms for free when it started sourcing the contraceptive from a local manufacturer- a move which gave birth to the well-known “Smile Condom”.
Commodity Exchange is Namibia’s only condom manufacturer. Having started off in 1994, it was not until 2002 that Commodity Exchange expanded its operations when it moved into the vacant local condom manufacturing space. Today, the company is fully Namibian owned with an ability to supply condoms to local and global markets. Commodity Exchange is the manufacture of government’s Smile condom.
Despite the revenue generated from supplying government with condoms, the company’s production team says the decision to enter the condom market was its way of contributing to Namibia’s fight to eliminate HIV/AIDS. According Commodity Exchange’s Van Wyk, quality assurance is crucial in the condom manufacturing business as is the case with any other health device or products or goods. The manufacturer is cognisant of stereotypes that Smile is of lesser quality when compared to international brands. “We have heard of that, but I can vow that our condoms are of high quality because we meet all international quality standards, hence we can distribute our condoms all over the world,” he said confidently.
Van Wyk says operation at Commodity Exchange undergo six separate audits by different international accrediting bodies to ensure that the condoms produced are on par with the set standards. “On each test occasion, our condoms have proven to be double the strength and double the volume. The notion that Smile is less inferior is not true,” he said. At the present, Smile is the only condom distributed by the Ministry of Health and Social Services. At present, there is no regulation in place to compel other condom brands that enter Namibia for quality assurance, something which leaves users with no avenue for recourse in case anything goes wrong during intercourse. Commodity Exchange has met the standards set out by both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and has won several international awards for its products.
On average, a condom’s lifespan is five years if stored under the right conditions. To keep up with demand, close to 100 000 condoms slide off factory lines every day.
Averouz Maritz, who is the Research and Development/New Business Development Executive for Commodity Exchange’s sister company Dore Pharmaceuticals, said the future plans of the company include producing brands for selling purposes as well as selling their products beyond the Namibian borders. He said Commodity Exchange will soon launch additional condom ranges such as YOLO and G-Spot which also come flavoured. The YOLO range is designed to woo youths who are increasingly sexually active but reluctant to use protection while the G-Spot range is expected to be a hit amongst women. This will include selling loose condoms unlike the current situation whereby condoms are sold in boxes of three.
Those looking to venture into the condom manufacturing industry in future, the advice from Commodity Exchange is to be resilient and quality conscious at all times. Van Wyk said all 30 employees at the condom-producing firm are Namibians and they have all been trained at the factory. More than 70% of the staff members are female he said proudly. “We have a staff of about 30 employees and 70% of them are women. We have never experienced any problems with working with them (women). Once they are given the required training, they are good to go,” said van Wyk. In addition, apart from a female dominated staff, Commodity Exchange also employs two hearing impaired Namibians-Petrus Nanghaku and Rosa Augustus. Nanghaku and Augustus have both been employees with the company since 2015. “So far we have employed only two hearing impaired Namibians and we are looking for more because they are so hardworking and are rarely distracted when doing their jobs,” he noted.
The production chain does not come across as complex, but it is evident that concentration to ensure precision is vital to avoid any mishaps.
The condoms undergo several tests such as: Pinhole Testing, Water Leakage Test, Bursting Test, Ageing Test