Unpopular contraceptive

Aids-related deaths in South Africa: 2 253 001 at noon, September 19

The female condom has failed to take off in Kenya, depriving women of one of the few means over which they have control of protecting themselves against HIV infection in male-dominated societies.

‘The introduction of the female condom in Kenya has failed to slow down HIV in women,” said Dr Enoch Kibunguchy, Assistant Minister for Health. About 740 000 women are infected with the virus, and carry the burden of HIV in the country.

‘The female condom was introduced in Kenya in a wrong manner. Manufacturers dumped the condoms in the country and did not bother to provide accurate information on its use,” he said. ‘A belated attempt by the government to raise its profile came too late, as attitude against it had already become ingrained.”

More than 200 000 of the condoms were supplied in 2007 but consumption was a paltry 10 000, while about 12-million male condoms were used every month, according to the director of the National Aids Control Council, Professor Alloys Orago.

‘While consumption of the male condom has been rising because of its low cost, the cost of the female condom is outrageously high,” he added. The female condom retails for as much as $3, which is beyond the means of most women.

Cultural barriers also often made it difficult for women to negotiate safer sex. ‘Although the [female] condoms are dispensed at government facilities for free, few women go for them,” said Kibunguchy. ‘Women give the condom a wide berth because it is cumbersome to wear, while others find it embarrassing. Even among the highly educated and professional class of women, the female condom is not a popular contraceptive.”

Reversing the unpopularity of the female condom would require ‘a change in attitude”, Kibunguchy commented. ‘Even economic empowerment, although critical, may not raise female condom uptake if supply and information are not well matched.”

Aids activists agreed, with many blaming the poor uptake of the female condom on insufficient effort by government to popularise it.

Allan Ragi, executive director of the Kenya Aids NGOs Consortium, called on the government to refocus its energies on making the female condom more widely available.

‘For poor, rural women, the female condom is a lifeline; if a woman’s husband shows up drunk, wanting to have sex, if she’s already … [got] the condom then she … [can be] protected,” he said. ‘But accessibility has been a problem — where is this woman supposed to get the condom?”

Better marketing and more information were necessary to ensure that all women in Kenya had the condom as an option for protection against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, Ragi said.

Source: Plus News

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