If you were around in the 1990s, the above pamphlet was not an all that uncommon sight. Chlamydia, it gently educates the previously ignorant passerby, is not a flower. It is a sexually transmitted disease which, because the symptoms are often very mild, goes undetected for months. And during that interim period, the person infected can unknowingly infect many others. So it shouldn’t be all that surprising that chlamydia spreads quickly. And for public health officials, that can be a very big headache.
And it can yield some pretty strange experiments, too. Let’s go back about a decade, to Sweden, for one such example.
Sweden has had a problem with chlamydia for decades. In 1997, the country established a surveillance system for chlamydia, aiming to figure out just how badly the disease was spreading. In 2004, according the BBC, chlamydia among “young adults” (the specific age range is not spelled out) doubled from the year prior. Further — and likely, directly related — only 25% of Swedes age 16 to 25 used condoms. But officials had reason to believe that the lack of condom use was not attributable to an unwillingness to don one, but often simply due to not having one available when the moment arose. Supporting this: a survey which found that half of the target audience “wouldn’t mind” using protection.
So Swedish officials created an on-demand solution: emergency vans, stocked with condoms, waiting for a phone call from a couple in need. Three days a week, these condom ambulances of a sort (called “Cho-San Express,” named for a brand of prophylactic), would deliver instant(-ish) protection anywhere within the three cities they serviced. The van would arrive on the scene with a ten pack of condoms at the reasonable price of 50 krona (about $7.50).
The skepticism around the program was legion, with most seeing it as nothing more than a PR stunt. One person interviewed by the BBC put to words the obvious flaw with the idea: “I would not call the condom express if I was in a situation where I needed one. It wouldn’t feel right. It would create too much attention.”
His skepticism was likely correctly placed. Apparently, the program has been discontinued since (sorry to all the young Swedes reading this), and if it had non-PR results, they didn’t last. A 2011 report found the problems were still present and condom use among that demographic was still very low. And that was after another intervention came and went. On September 13, 2010, the Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control held a day of awareness, called “Chlamydia Monday,” hoping to inform Swedes about the disease and make it known that free STD tests were available to them through the Institute.
From the Archives: Kaninhoppning: It’s Swedish and cute.
Related: This, actually, is a flower. Lots of them, in fact.