Background: Several HIV prevention programs use data on condom sales and survey-based data on condom prevalence to monitor progress. However, such indicators are not always consistent. This paper aims to explain these inconsistencies and to assess whether the number of sex acts and the number of condoms used can be estimated from survey data. This would be useful for program managers, as it would enable estimation of the number of condoms needed for different target groups.
Methods: We use data from six Demographic and Health Surveys to estimate the total annual number of sex acts and number of condoms used. Estimates of the number of sex acts are based on self-reported coital frequency, the proportion reporting intercourse the previous day, and survival methods. Estimates of the number of condoms used are based on self-reported frequency of use, the proportion reporting condom use the previous day and in last intercourse. The estimated number of condoms used is then compared with reported data on condom sales and distribution.
Results: Analysis of data on the annual number of condoms sold and distributed to the trade reveals very erratic patterns, which reflect stock-ups at various levels in the distribution chain. Consequently, condom sales data are a very poor indicator of the level of condom use. Estimates of both the number of sexual acts and the number of condoms used vary enormously based on the estimation method used. For several surveys, the highest estimate of the annual number of condoms used is tenfold that of the lowest estimate.
Conclusions: Condom sales to the trade are a poor indicator of levels of condom use, and are therefore insufficient to monitor HIV prevention programs. While survey data on condom prevalence allow more detailed monitoring, converting such data to an estimated number of sex acts and condoms used is not straightforward. The estimation methods yield widely different results, and it is impossible to determine which method is most accurate. Until the reliability of these various estimation methods can be established, estimating the annual number of condoms used from survey data will not be feasible. Collecting survey data on the number of sex acts and the number of condoms used in a fixed time period may enable the calculation of more reliable estimates of the number of sex acts and condoms used.