Today, we have two tools to prevent HIV, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy--female and male condoms. So why aren't HIV infection rates showing any signs of slowing down?
The short answer is 1) Condoms--especially female condoms--are underfunded and underused; and 2) Stigma, misconceptions, and a lack of political commitment prevent men, women, and young people from accessing and using female and male condoms.
Female and male condoms need increased U.S. foreign policy and funding support. There is a global need and demand for both, and both have been proven effective. Male condoms tend to do all right in the policy and funding department, but female condoms are still getting the brush-off.
But a condom is a condom, so the male version should be enough...right?
Research conducted in Brazil, India, Thailand, the United States, and Zambia indicates an increase of protected sex acts, and a decrease in STIs, when both female and male condoms are well-marketed. The male condom clearly gets a significant boost from its female counterpart. To top it off, the female condom can be initiated and controlled by women. That is what gives the female condom a value beyond measure. Women are among the groups with the highest risk of HIV infection. According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS is the leading killer of women between the ages of 15 and 49. Women need a method of protection they can control--their protection cannot continue to be determined by their partners. Without it, what are we saying to women? "Good luck--we hope your partner will use a condom?"
Right now, at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a civil society statement is circulating among country delegations, demanding increased female condom distribution and programming. It has been signed by more than 200 international organizations. Here at home, the Female Health Company will launch next week its second FDA-approved female condom, the FC2®, in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The M·A·C AIDS Fund, Washington AIDS Partnership, CVS, and the D.C. HIV and AIDS Administration are supporting efforts in D.C. In Chicago, a coalition of HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, women's health, and gay men's health organizations today launched the Chicago Female Condom Campaign ("put a ring on it!). Both cities will distribute the FC2® for free.
There is a demonstrated global demand for female condoms and the products to meet it. The only thing missing is U.S. foreign policy and funding support. This is an easy fix-- every U.S. policy and program related to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care must include female and male condom support.
That's it. And it works.