Demanding Access To Female Condoms
An international coalition of organizations that represent Latin American women and Latina women in the United States is demanding increased access to the female condom as an essential strategy to fight HIV/AIDS.
The 37-member coalition, which includes 28 organizations from 11 Latin American nations and 9 Latina advocacy and service organizations from the U.S., has released a World AIDS Day statement that calls on governments and international donors to step up their investment in programs that distribute the female condom and educate women and men on its use.
"The female condom is a critical tool that holds many important advantages for women and their partners. But global distribution of the female condom remains astonishingly low fifteen years after it was introduced," said Dr. Carmen Valenzuela-Dall, a Guatemalan physician and a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE).
Dr. Valenzuela noted that the female condom can play an important role in strengthening HIV prevention at a time when HIV/AIDS is increasingly becoming a women's pandemic. Women now account for one-third of all people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, and Latina women in the U.S. represent sixteen percent of all new HIV infections, a rate that is four times the rate for non-Latina white women.
"The need for HIV prevention that women can initiate is an issue that transcends borders," said Yolanda Rodriguez-Escobar of Mujeres Unidas Contra el SIDA in San Antonio Texas. "The feminization of the epidemic in our communities demands a woman-centered response."
"Research shows that when women and men have access to the female condom and education on its use, it becomes a product that they demand," Dr. Valenzuela added. "The female condom strengthens HIV protection by providing women with a method that they can initiate with their partners. It also alleviates male condom fatigue by providing couples with another family planning option and another way to practice safe sex."
The coalition has praised recent steps by the Brazilian government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase the purchase and distribution of female condoms to women and men in communities heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS. But Dr. Valenzuela notes that HIV prevention programs are still not providing women with adequate education on the female condom. Global distribution of the female condom also remains extremely low relative to the male condom.
In 2007, twenty-seven million female condoms were purchased by HIV prevention programs worldwide, the equivalent of just one female condom per year for every sixty-two women aged 15 to 49. By comparison, between six and nine billion male condoms were purchased.
"Global investment in programs that provide women and men with affordable access to HIV prevention methods has stagnated over the past decade, and federal government funding for U.S. family planning programs has remained flat for several years," Dr. Valenzuela said. "Women want to take steps to protect themselves, their partners, and their families, but they cannot do so if they don't have affordable access to male and female condoms."
The coalition has called on national governments and international donors to dramatically increase investments in the purchase, distribution and programming of female condoms worldwide.
Coalition members are supporters of Prevention Now! -- an international female condom advocacy campaign that was launched at the International AIDS Conference in 2006.