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Free condoms at Olympics promote safe sex — and rainforest preservation

The Zika virus has people worldwide concerned about the Olympics in Brazil, where the virus is epidemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). Evidence now proves that Zika also can be spread via unprotected sex with an infected man for at least 62 days after infection. That evidence has lead the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend six-months abstinence from unprotected sex with previously infected males.

To promote both rainforest protection and safe sex, and likely to spread a message that it’s safe to be in Brazil despite Zika, the government of Brazil plans to distribute 9 million free condoms during the August Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,  according to Reuters.

What’s the connection to the rainforest? Natex, the company producing the condoms to be distributed in Rio, is located deep in the rainforest. The company uses latex derived from local rubber trees to manufacture its condoms. Natex is run by the state government and employs local people to harvest the rubber. The workers are called “tappers” because they literally tap the latex that exudes from rubber trees, similar to sap from maple trees. The Natex local employment program is designed to subsidize sustainable industry in the rainforest and defend the forest against illegal loggers. For tappers, it means a livelihood with roots in tradition.

Related: Ingenious Brazilian billboards use fake sweat to attract and kill Zika-carrying mosquitos

Reuters met with 71-year-old Raimundo Mendes de Barros, who has been a rubber tree tapper his whole life. “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.” de Barros, like other tappers, considers himself a guardian of the rainforest. 

The local Olympic organizing committee plans to distribute 450,000 of the rainforest condoms to athletes and Olympic staff. The remaining 8.5 million condoms will be available for free to all Olympic visitors. This summer won’t be the first time Brazil’s Heath Ministry has distributed free condoms. For years the Ministry has given out millions of rainforest condoms produced by Natex at large public events in Brazil, such as Carnival, an annual five-day party held just before the beginning of Lent.

The concern about Zika infection and the prospect of six months abstinence from unprotected sex may still keep athletes and visitors from attending the Olympics this summer. People infected with Zika often have no symptoms and show no signs of the virus, which means any sexually active man who travels in Brazil should use protection for at least six months thereafter to protect his partner or partners.