Coca Cola Trumps Condoms—How Can We Help?

Over the last six months, as an intern at Pathfinder International, I’ve learned a lot about the field of reproductive health. One of the most shocking aspects has been just how many women lack access to contraception (200 million to be exact).

This issue was brought to life recently by a new video called Empty Handed: Responding to the Demand for Contraceptives. Produced by Population Action International and filmed in Uganda, it tells the story of the millions of women around the world who want, but lack access to contraceptives.

**Learn more about the contraceptive shortage in Uganda

Chronicling the delivery process of contraceptives to health clinics, the film intends to expose some of its short comings that cause the delays that result in supply shortages. Some people, like Dr. Moses Muwonge, the former Ministry of Healthy Supplies Coordinator, believe that these delays happen because the government does not view the delivery of contraceptives as a priority.

“In one day, Coca Cola can transport the Coca Cola products and people drink in the villages. Why don’t we reach in one day for a woman to access contraceptives?” Dr. Muwonge says in the film.

His quote reminded me of a story one of my colleagues shared about her recent Pathfinder trip to Tanzania. She told us how during her excursion to a particularly rural area, Shinyanga, there seemed to be an endless stream of Coca Cola delivery trucks passing them on the bumpy dirt road. While everyone can get a bottle of soda relatively easily, getting health care, let alone contraceptives, is a major challenge.

**Read Jaime-Alexis Fowler’s full story

The problems portrayed in Empty Handed are not exclusive to Uganda or even to Africa. Contraception shortages occur around the world and can be caused not only by the absence of government involvement but also by inadequate funding and a lack of information.

Empty Handed includes a call to action stating that “everyone has a role to play in improving access to reproductive health supplies.” Population Action International then provides a list of ways that everyone from private foundations, to the government, to the general public can make a difference in these women’s lives and end the contraceptive supply shortage.

After watching this film I am more motivated than ever to do what I can to ensure women have access to contraceptives—and glad that my last six months at Pathfinder have contributed to that, even if it was only in the smallest way. No one should have to suffer like these women do. No one should be denied the ability to control their own life.

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  • mechashiva

    This article brings up an important point. We don’t have our priorities straight. Companies will go out of their way to make sure they can sell a useless (or unhealthy) product to impoverished people. Why on earth can’t we make sure starving people get nutritious food? Why do we have so many roadblocks to provision of contraceptives, which arguably do the most to improve quality of life for families in developing nations?


    Admitedly, I am an idealist. I cried the first time I saw Starvation is so common in some places that the people think it is a virus-like disease. They simply can’t imagine eating every day, because they’ve never known anything but hunger. In such impoverished areas, there is certainly no birth control, and mothers sometimes give up on feeding all the children they have. Maternal mortality rates in such countries are also incredibly high, as women’s bodies simply can’t handle the number of pregnancies they typically endure… particularly not when they are malnurished.


    I’d like to think that we could base an economy on egalitarianism… preventative healthcare, food, and education rather than clothing/make-up, weapons, and pharmaceuticals. It seems hopeless, though. Particularly in America, most people don’t care about what happens in the developing world. Out of site, out of mind.

  • crowepps

    At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”

    So what has this got to do with the bread on Abiba’s plate? Until deregulation, the price for food was set by the forces of supply and demand for food itself. (This was already deeply imperfect: it left a billion people hungry.) But after deregulation, it was no longer just a market in food. It became, at the same time, a market in food contracts based on theoretical future crops – and the speculators drove the price through the roof.


    Here’s how it happened. In 2006, financial speculators like Goldmans pulled out of the collapsing US real estate market. They reckoned food prices would stay steady or rise while the rest of the economy tanked, so they switched their funds there. Suddenly, the world’s frightened investors stampeded on to this ground.


    So while the supply and demand of food stayed pretty much the same, the supply and demand for derivatives based on food massively rose – which meant the all-rolled-into-one price shot up, and the starvation began. The bubble only burst in March 2008 when the situation got so bad in the US that the speculators had to slash their spending to cover their losses back home.


    When I asked Merrill Lynch’s spokesman to comment on the charge of causing mass hunger, he said: “Huh. I didn’t know about that.” He later emailed to say: “I am going to decline comment.” Deutsche Bank also refused to comment. Goldman Sachs were more detailed, saying they sold their index in early 2007 and pointing out that “serious analyses … have concluded index funds did not cause a bubble in commodity futures prices”, offering as evidence a statement by the OECD.


    How do we know this is wrong? As Professor Ghosh points out, some vital crops are not traded on the futures markets, including millet, cassava, and potatoes. Their price rose a little during this period – but only a fraction as much as the ones affected by speculation. Her research shows that speculation was “the main cause” of the rise.


  • mechashiva

    Yes, very interesting, crowepps. Thank you. I’ll be sharing this with other hunger activists I know.