Where have all the female condoms gone?
-Steep price may cripple HIV/AIDS prevention campaign
Guyana Chronicle – November 6, 2005
By Shirley Thomas
THE steep increase in the price of female condoms locally, if not checked, can cripple the campaign for popularising and promoting the device as a reliable mechanism for preventing the spread of HIV – the virus that causes AIDS – and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The retail price for a single female disposable condom, has now reached a whopping $995 – more than twice, and almost thrice the initial price when first introduced here about two and a half years ago. In 2003, condoms were sold locally for about $345.
Checks at various pharmacies around the city revealed that even though the prevailing price should be about $445, those pharmacies asking that price are out of supplies. This has probably influenced the high price of the article in places where it is available.
But a Managing Director of a pharmacy which has several branches around the country, announced that his company now sells female condoms for $995, and that there continues to be a demand.
The drastic increase has prompted fears that this can prove a major setback in the quest to get women to use the device, which is said to be safer than the male condoms. This is because the price factor will now virtually push female condoms out of the reach of the average low income or unemployed women, a great many of whom are very vulnerable to contracting HIV.
HIV/AIDS educators and community health workers contend that this development is bound to deal a devastating blow on all efforts and energies expended so far on getting women to use the device, still relatively new in Guyana. They are calling for some mechanism to be speedily put in place to monitor the price of the essential commodity.
It was the consensus among women interviewed that, once they get used to it, then there’s no longer a problem, adding that they are comfortable on learning that female condoms are stronger and safer than those designed for males.
Many women interviewed have admitted that, with education campaigns, they have now overcome the initial psychological hurdles associated with use of the condom which they previously perceived as bulky and repugnant. Appreciable numbers have since begun to use them, and others say they are considering doing likewise.
But even as women continue to lament the spiralling cost versus affordability, and its negative effects on attempts to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, there is still reportedly, a growing demand for the commodity – though not from within female circles.
Investigations into this scenario revealed that while women are dithering there is a new and ever-growing rival clientele literally ‘grabbing up’ the commodity for personal use. Informed sources say that many homosexuals, happy about the novel invention, and very comfortable with its use and the level of protection it offers, are turning away from male condoms in preference to female condoms which are not found to be constricting.
A leading HIV/AIDS educator has confirmed that following much controversy over the efficacy of the male condom for preventing the spread of HIV, there is a great demand for them among homosexuals, and outside of Guyana, the commodity is literally selling like hot-cakes.
Meanwhile, experts contend that even though the female condom is more expensive than the male condom – sold on average for $200 per packet of three – there is evidence that it may be cost-effective and even cost-saving in reproductive health programmes, particularly in target groups that practise high-risk behaviours.
JHPIEGO, an affiliate of the John Hopkins University, on the use of female condoms states:
Some of the benefits of the female condom, over the male condom include:
* It is made of polyurethane, while most male condoms are made of latex. Polyurethane is stronger than latex and causes no allergic reactions. Unlike latex, polyurethane may be used with both oil-based and water-based lubricants and is not susceptible to deterioration from temperature or humidity.
* It is not tight or constricting.
* It can be inserted prior to intercourse and does not require immediate withdrawal after ejaculation, so it will not interrupt sexual spontaneity.
* The female condom offers more extensive barrier protection, covering both the woman’s internal and external genitalia and the base of the penis, as required for persons with genital warts.
* Unlike the male condom, female condoms can be reused if washed, rinsed and air dried after use. The female condom has no serious side effects, with less than 10 per cent of users reporting mild temporary irritation.
If condoms are used correctly and consistently with every act of sex, they are very effective, providing 98 per cent protection against HIV and STIs and 95–97 per cent protection against pregnancy.
In Guyana, as part of an ongoing battle to stem the spread of HIV, work is being stepped up on sensitising women on the correct use and benefits of the female condom with some degree of success.
This breakthrough can be credited to the arduous and concerted efforts on the part of local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
When initially introduced locally, the first glimpse at the strange looking condom caused many women to literally cringe, and the common response was invariably: “That clumsy thing…Whey dat going?”
About two years later, an appreciable number of Guyanese women has become familiar with the device, and whether or not they can afford it, are now beginning to understand the benefits.
Acceptance of the female condom among women in Guyana was, to a large extent, influenced by the vision and benevolence of a popular Guyanese-born, United States-based Caribbean personality, Ms. Dawne Fraser Stewart. Fraser Stewart is a founder-member of Caribbean People International Collective (CPIC) and Director of Monique’s Caring Hands (an HIV/AIDS NGO) in Guyana.
The effervescent, `tell it like it is’ personality, who seems to have impacted a good many of the up-and-running HIV/AIDS NGOs in Guyana, first introduced the female condom here in 2003. Initially it was viewed with some reservation, but she was able to make considerable inroads, having launched a spirited campaign on teaching Guyanese women about the role of condoms.
That hurdle was cleared during CPIC’s three-phase SISTA `Sisters Informing Sisters on Topics about AIDS’ training programme in Georgetown. Apart from theory, practical demonstrations in the use of both male and female condoms formed part of the programme.
The SISTA Training Projects, introduced then, and being taken around the country by more than 30 facilitators from local AIDS Service Organisations and NGOs focused on Behavioural Self Management and negotiation of safer sex practice by Caribbean women. Emphasis was placed on the key concepts of Assertiveness Training Skills and provided women with the skills to negotiate safe sex practices, and on how to use condoms properly.
In the face of the prevailing price of the commodity, hoards of women say they can ill afford to buy a condom costing close to $1,000 and have stopped buying them.
Against this background, we may now be inclined to ask: “Where have all the female condoms gone?”