Scientists Study Safe Reuse of Female Condom
In the effort to make contraception more affordable to low-income women, particularly those living in developing countries, the Eastern Virginia Medical School will conduct research to determine whether the female condom can be reused without compromising its effectiveness, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Although the female condom "never quite caught on" among American women due to its expense ($2 to $3 per condom), odd appearance, difficult use and squeaking, UNAIDS has been shipping the contraceptives to women in AIDS-devastated regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, and 60% of the device's sales come from developing nations. Female condom-maker Female Health Co. sells the condoms to international family planning agencies for less than a dollar, but the possibility of safe reuse of the device would make the female condom "even more economical." Dr. Susan Ballagh, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at EVMS and principle investigator of the reuse study, said, "If we could remove the economic barrier, we might increase the ability of women to use it." The female condom was tested in 1992 prior to receiving FDA approval, and was found to be 74% to 95% effective as a barrier method of birth control. The product has never been tested for reuse. Ballagh and researchers will recruit 80 couples to test the condoms, one half of whom will test it once and one half of whom will use a single condom five times in 15 days, washing it with soap and water following use. Used condoms will then be checked for rips or tears and participants will be examined for rashes or irritations caused by the condom reuse. Although the female condom is not meant to replace the male condom, as it is the preferred method with an efficacy rate between 80% and 97%, Barbara Lea-Kruger, spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health's HIV/AIDS division, said that "if we're talking about women who don't have access to other forms of birth control and who come from a culture where men are less willing to use a condom, it's a viable alternative" (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.