AP/Long Island Newsday Examines New Female Condom
Some advocates of the female condom hope that a new version of the product -- which is less expensive and more user-friendly -- will increase use and expand its role as a women-initiated method of protecting against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. The earlier version of the female condom, introduced in 1993, was promoted by the United Nations and other organizations but has not gained widespread use for several reasons, including cost, availability, stigma and concerns about usability. Last year, about 35 million female condoms were distributed, compared with more than 10 billion male condoms, which are less-costly and considered easier to use initially, the AP/Newsday reports.
The new version, called the FC2 and produced by the Female Health Company, cost about 60 cents per condom, about one-third less than its predecessor, as a result of the use of synthetic rubber instead of more costly polyurethane. However, male condoms cost about four cents each, which is a significant difference for distribution in developing countries, according to the AP/Newsday. Mary Ann Leeper, strategic adviser to Female Health, said FC2 also is quieter than it earlier version. Complaints about noises during use slowed acceptance of the original female condom, the AP/Newsday reports.
Bidia Deperthes, the United Nations Population Fund's HIV technical adviser for condoms, said she hopes that the number of female condoms distributed globally could increase to 50 million this year, adding that the cost to public-sector distributors could drop as low as 25 cents per condom if distribution continues to rise. According to the AP/Newsday, UNFPA, other government agencies and not-for-profit groups are promoting female condoms in some countries -- including Brazil, Zimbabwe, Ghana and South Africa -- where there has been less resistance than in some other countries. Deperthes said, "The mindset is changing, but there are still a lot of challenges." She added, "Accessibility is still minimal. There's a huge demand, and we're not meeting it." Susie Hoffman, an assistant professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University, said that "if presented in the right way, many women do like it." She added, "To find these people and help them and train them, you need systematic programming, which costs money."
The AP/Newsday reports that another factor is stigma associated with the female condom in some countries because sex workers are among the groups that could most benefit from using it. Proponents of the female condom also say it has great potential for women with unfaithful partners to protect themselves from STIs. Serra Sippel, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, said that approval of the FC2 is a step toward "putting the power of prevention in women's hands" but that limited over-the-counter availability is a problem. Jeff Spieler, a science adviser with USAID's Office of Population and Reproductive Health, said the female condom's future could depend on whether Female Health can develop demand in the private sector. Leeper said the company is seeking a corporate partner to market FC2 (Crary, AP/Long Island Newsday, 4/16).