Brazilian government to hand out nine million free condoms during Olympics

The Brazilian government is to hand out nine million free condoms around Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics in a push intended to encourage safe sex and defend the Amazon rainforest.

Rio's Olympic organising committee said about 450,000 of the sustainably-produced condoms will allocated for athletes and staff housed in the Olympic Village.

The rest will be made available to visitors who will be arriving in the city in just a few weeks, the Health Ministry said.

The condoms are produced by Natex, a factory in the western Amazonian state of Acre, deep in the rainforest near Brazil's border with Bolivia.

A Seringueira rubber tree, which is native to the Amazon rainforest, stands in Chico Mendes Extraction Reserve in Xapuri. Credit: Reuters
Condoms produced with natural rubber are tested at the plant in Xapuri. Credit: Reuters
The condoms at the plant in Xapuri, Acre state, Brazil. Credit: Reuters

The factory, run by the Acre state government, uses latex gathered from Amazon rubber trees by tappers who are employed by a government-run programme designed to protect their traditional livelihood, foster sustainable use of the rainforest and deter illegal loggers.

Raimundo Mendes de Barros, a 71-year-old lifelong rubber tapper, spoke about the fierce fight he and other sustainable rubber tappers wage to maintain their craft.

"Our condom factory, aside from guaranteeing a fair price for the rubber, employs hundreds," he said. "It gives the world a product - the condom - that will be very present there in Rio, to fight disease and help with birth control."

Tappers have been urging Brazilian leaders to do more to halt deforestation for decades. It is mostly caused by the illegal clearing of forest for ranching, soy farms and timber extraction.

Brazil's Health Ministry has distributed millions of condoms from the factory for free at big events around Brazil for several years - most notably the annual bacchanal of Carnival.

The construction site of the beach volleyball venue for 2016 Rio Olympics on Copacabana beach. Credit: Reuters
The Olympic Games takes place in Rio between 5 and 21 August. Credit: Reuters