South Africa has so many interesting, informative and inspiring stories to tell especially when it concerns their battle against the HIV/AIDS. But although the country has a high rate of this dreaded disease, it has also greatly benefited from and responded well to global efforts by numerous non-profit organizations to prevent the spread of AIDS notably with condom use. And it is largely in part due to South Africa’s AIDS situation that condom quality has been further improved.
The quality of condoms is ensured through various tests. These tests are necessary to guarantee their effectiveness in the prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In South Africa’s capital of Pretoria, the Bureau of Standards (SABS) which tests all kinds of products has its own condom testing facilities where one dedicated woman stands out.
The tester’s story
The SABS testing lab boasts of a senior testing officer by the name of Isabella Masemola. This woman holds a degree in electrical engineering and started working for the SABS in the late 1990s. Initially, her function was to test household water meters but her curiosity later led her to doing spot tests for radiation badges.
It was in April of 2007 when Isabella was assigned to the condom testing lab. This was prior to the controversy that involved the SABS wherein the testing manager was alleged to have received money from a condom maker in exchange for certifying condoms that were defective. That time proved to be very challenging as the Department of Health recalled 20 million condoms as a result of the controversy.
Isabella Masemola could not believe the immorality that occurred that put at risk peoples’ lives. But instead of being discouraged, she was further encouraged to do her best in making sure that the condoms they test pass their quality standards. “We have to ensure that the condoms will last as they travel to different countries and are stored on different shelves,” she said.
The condom tests
The SABS lab performs several tests for condoms according to guidelines set by the World Health Organization. In the lab alone, temperature, humidity and pressure are controlled and logged to keep the conditions at a constant level while tests are being done. Each day, lab technicians usually do random sample tests of about five batches of condoms or about 4,000 pieces.
The condoms are first weighed in to find out if there is sufficient lubrication. Weighing is done electronically after which they are washed up with isopropanol heated to 40 degrees Celsius to get rid of the lubrication. They are then weighed again.
From there, the condoms are measured against the standard minimum specifications of 180 mm in length and 52 mm in width. During this stage, thickness is also checked.
To test the durability and strength, the condoms are put in the oven and heated to 70 degrees Celsius. Further, the packed condoms are subjected to extreme pressure in a glass container that looks like the pressure cooker we use in the kitchen. Isabella relates that if even just a single condom in one batch of 800 fails this test, the whole batch won’t get approved.
The last and most vital phase is the checking for holes and bursting points. During this test, the condoms are submerged in iodated water and filled with water to check for holes. The test for bursting involves the filling of purified air into the condom and stretching it to about a meter in length.