Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked.
Those of us working on the frontlines of reproductive health are excited about the potential of this powerful tool for protection. Female condoms offer women—and men—dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Female condoms are easy to use and can afford women greater control over safe sex negotiation – an especially important benefit in countries where women’s risk of contracting HIV is high. Some have argued that female condoms are too expensive, but mathematical modeling shows they can be a cost-effective public health intervention when offered as part of a well-planned STI and pregnancy prevention program.
But even with all of these advantages, female condoms don’t get the attention they deserve. The first female condom was introduced two decades ago. Yet today, awareness and availability remains too low in too many places, including areas with high rates of HIV infection and unmet need for family planning.
We have a technology available right now that gives women the power to save and enhance their own lives. Will we let two more decades pass before making it fully available to them?
Global Female Condom Day gives us the chance to publicly renew our commitment to achieving universal access to female condoms. The good news is that we are making progress toward this goal:
- Female condom distribution is on the rise. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), global distribution of female condoms tripled from 2005 to 2009.
- Female condom commodity and program support has been expanding, thanks to the leadership of international donors including UNFPA and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Meanwhile, new initiatives including the Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC) are bringing large-scale female condom programming to more countries.
- Female condoms are getting a boost from new advocacy initiatives. UAFC, the Center for Health and Gender Equity’s (CHANGE) Prevention Now! Campaign, and the recently launched US National Female Condom Coalition are galvanizing female condom supporters in theUnited States and worldwide to advocate for increased access.
- New types of female condoms are becoming available, expanding options for dual protection.
One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market inChina and sub-SaharanAfrica.
So, let’s celebrate these encouraging advances on this first Global Female Condom Day. And, let’s also renew our efforts to make sure that women everywhere have access to the tool we’re toasting.
Patricia S. Coffey leads the Maternal, Neonatal, and Reproductive Health Technologies Group at PATH.