by Laura Huaman
The failure of recent trials to show the efficacy of
new microbicide candidates and the diaphragm,
make the promotion of the female condom as a
life-saving intervention more prominent than
-John McConnell, Editor, Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2008
The female condom (a transparent sheath with the same length as the male condom and a flexible ring at each end), which was introduced in 1984, has not received as much attention as expected, given the number of women with HIV globally and the increased support for women’s right to health. On the contrary, as Peters et al comment, the female condom has been marginalized in the international response to HIV/AIDS. In a new article published by Radboud University in the Netherlands, the authors analyze the views and actions of “users, providers, national governments, and international public policymakers […] using a framework to evaluate access to new health technologies in poor countries.” The article argues that barriers to universal access to female condoms mainly arise from issues of acceptability at the international policy level, and not, as it is usually believed, due to users’ or local governments’ unwillingness. The authors concluded that global public policy makers hide behind the argument of high prices and the myth that there is no demand and thus no market for the female condom. Female condom programmes have been “sabotaged by problematising acceptability among users.”
The article reminded me of my experience teaching about HIV/AIDS and reproductive health to a group of mamas in a Tanzanian village outside of Arusha. Most of the women my group and I got to talk to had never heard about the female condom. When we went to the duka (a local stand store) to find out if they sold any, they didn’t. However, the organization I was working with, SIC, did leave female free female condoms for the dukas to try to sell. Some of the women we had spoken to did buy the female condoms and were excited about purchasing more.
Indeed, the female condom is an incredible strategy to reduce the risk of HIV infection and gives autonomy to women to protect themselves and not to solely rely on their partners. Female condoms for preventing HIV and other STIs are also cost effective, as the reading suggests. Even though some men in certain parts of the world may oppose women’s use of female condoms, teaching women about them and making them accessible to them is still a form of empowerment, and thus a method to reduce to the risk of infection with HIV and/or other STIs.
Anny, P. "The Female Condom: The International Denial of a Strong Potential." Reproductive health matters 18.35 (2010):119.