DA NANG, Vietnam- Vietnamese people generally do not talk about sex protection publicly, but that didn't stop a group of students in the central Da Nang City from creating a machine that dispenses condoms free of charge in a bid to help people overcome the embarrassment of buying them at stores.
The students, both majors in electronics at the city's Duy Tan University, said they hope their invention will prevent the transmission of HIV and unexpected pregnancies.
According to team leader Nguyen Cong Tin, the group of students came up with the idea to create the machine following a suggestion from their teacher, Ha Dac Binh, head of the Faculty of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. They produced the machine to take part in a community economic project competition held by the university with the participation of students from other universities in central Viet Nam.
Tin said they faced a lot of difficulty in accomplishing the project because it took place at the same time as examinations. In addition to putting in long hours and staying up late, a number of spare parts they needed weren't available on the market.
Tin and his friends had to share the costs of building the machine, which totaled about VND4 million (S$257).
The first condom machine has been placed in front of the office of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union located at 180 Hoang Dieu Street, Hai Chau District.
Tin said a condom is dispensed into a tray at the push of a button. A screen displays the number of condoms in stock and a small slot for cash donations.
The machine will track the number of condoms dispensed for statistical purposes, Tin said, adding that it also sends a text message to the creators whenever it runs out of condoms.
Up to 20 condoms have been distributed every day since the condom dispenser was installed on December 31, he said.
People often come up to receive condoms between 9.30pm and 5am the following day, he said.
"Our biggest challenge is that we don't have enough funding to make more condom dispensers, nor donations to help maintain the machine's operation," Tin said.
He expected that they would get support from the Government or organisations in the future to better serve those who were in need.
As soon as the image of the condom dispenser spread on social media, it immediately caught the attention of local residents. Many people praised the students' initiative, which was simple but creative. They said it showed young people's awareness of safe sex.
Nguyen Thi Xuan, head of Da Nang City's Department of Population and Family Planning, said that while automatic condom machines are common in many countries, the students' machine is the first of its kind in Viet Nam.
"This is a good idea that helps the youth learn how to protect themselves, control STDs and prevent unplanned pregnancies," she told Gia dinh va Xa hoi (Family and Society) newspaper.
Xuan said the department has provided 2,000 condoms to support the students' work.
If the machine proves to be effective, the department will work with the students to install similar ones near fishing harbours or markets in coastal areas, she said.