HIV :: Call for immediate investments in universal access to female condoms

The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) today called on UN agencies, major foundations and bilateral aid programs such as PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, to immediately increase funding for the procurement and distribution of female condoms in countries heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as funding for programs that raise public awareness of female condoms and provide education on their use.

“We join our colleagues in expressing disappointment that two clinical trials of topical microbicides were recently halted in Africa and India,” said Jodi Jacobson, Executive Director of CHANGE. “We whole-heartedly support efforts to develop a safe and effective microbicide as an essential woman- initiated HIV-prevention tool.”

“But it is clear that access to an effective microbicide remains some years away, and the rapid spread of HIV among women and adolescents underscores the fact that we must do everything in our power-right now-to make prevention methods available and affordable to all who need them” Jacobson added. “This means dramatically increasing funding to buy and distribute the female condom, a method that has been deemed safe and effective by the FDA and WHO and has high rates of acceptability among users. The female condom is available now, and it’s time to deliver on the promises that we have made to enhance prevention for women and men.”

Today, women make up half of those infected with HIV worldwide, and more than 60 percent of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa.

Female condoms are an essential part of any comprehensive response for HIV prevention. Correct and consistent use of female condoms can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent in women having sex with an infected partner. Female condoms also increase the practice of safer sex. Studies show that access to female condoms increase the range of options available to couples using male condoms, leading to higher rates of use overall. Female condoms also provide an effective alternative to women whose partners refuse to wear a male condom. In studies conducted in Brazil and the United States, the number of protected sex acts doubled after participants received counseling and training on use of female condoms.

Studies also show high rates of acceptability. Data from more than 40 countries show that between 36 and 95 percent of female and male participants found the female condom acceptable. And like male condoms, female condoms can be used for both vaginal and anal intercourse, further increasing the range of options for reducing the spread of HIV infection. Moreover, female condoms are also effective as a family planning method.

Despite the potential for female condoms to stem the spread of HIV infections and realize other public health benefits, this method remains largely inaccessible to the vast majority of those at risk. In 2006, for example, only 20 million female condoms were available to women in Asia,

Africa, and Latin America-roughly one female condom per year for every 100 women between the ages of 15 and 49.

The high cost per female condom keeps this method out of reach for many potential users. Lack of public sector investment in procuring and distributing female condoms and in the programs needed to ensure consistent use means that this method remains out of reach of millions of women and men at risk of HIV.

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