This month Ishdeep Kohli reports from the NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development held in Berlin, Germany, 2-4 September, on the myths, misconceptions and biases against the female condom that have hindered international investment in and expanded access to this method of HIV prevention.
Female condoms: saving lives now
The Global Partners in Action: NGO Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development is being held in recognition of the fifteen year anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
At the pre-conference satellite session ‘Female Condom Programming: breaking down the barriers’ hosted by Universal Access to Female Condom (UAFC) Joint Programme and World Population Foundation different prejudices were discussed with the audience while showing the different female condom models. Because many people judge the female condom without ever seeing, let alone using one, participants were given demonstrations about the female condom.
The female condom is a proven HIV and pregnancy prevention method. But in 2007, only 26 million female condoms were distributed worldwide, just one for every 100 women in Asia, Latin American and Africa between the ages of 15 and 49. Numerous studies have indicated that female condom effectiveness is comparable to male condoms in preventing HIV and unintended pregnancy.
Myths, misconceptions and biases against the female condom have hindered international investment in and expanded access to this method, resulting in a high cost-per-unit price. To lower the price of the female condom, we need governments and donor agencies to make bulk purchases and to invest in the programs that can make this method more widely accessible.
Female condoms are available now. This means that we can immediately begin increasing people’s choices, and reducing the numbers of HIV infections, unintended pregnancies and related adverse outcomes of unprotected sex right away. Female condoms can be inserted independently and well in advance of intercourse by a woman seeking to protect herself from infection and unintended pregnancy. They can reduce the rate of HIV transmission among women having sex with an infected partner by more than 90 percent; are at least as effective in reducing other sexually transmitted infections as are male condoms; and can be used to avoid unintended pregnancy.
Analysis of studies from 40 countries show that acceptability rates for female condoms range between 37 and 93 percent of potential users; thus female condoms have high rates of acceptability. Studies show that access to female condoms increases the rate of use of both male and female condoms, increasing the rate of protected sex overall.
Recent cost analyses of the female condom show that increased access to female condoms can lead to dramatic savings in both lives and in health care costs in diverse country settings. Education on partner communication and condom negotiation provided by female condom training programs increases the ability of women and men to discuss effective HIV prevention strategies and take steps to better protect themselves.
National governments, bilateral aid agencies, and international donors can drive down the price of the female condom and make it affordable by making bulk purchases of this method, as is traditionally done with virtually every reproductive and sexual health technology, including male condoms.
Increasing access to and effective use of all currently available technologies such as the female condom, male condom and other sexual and reproductive health technologies is essential to enabling people to realize their basic human rights to health; to health information; to informed choices in health care; and to the benefits of scientific progress. Making female condoms available is part of the obligations by states to ensure the progressive realization of these rights and is critically important to improving public health.
Women and men everywhere need more prevention options right now. The time has come to remove barriers that have denied women and men access to the female condom. The time has come to demand prevention now. Prevention Now! is a global campaign led by advocates throughout the world working to prevent the spread of HIV, reduce unintended pregnancy, and advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people worldwide. The main goal of the campaign is to ensure that governments and donor agencies provide the funds needed to dramatically increase access to female condoms and other existing HIV prevention options for women and men now.