By Saskia Husken – Advocacy Officer for Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Joint Programme
The Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Joint Programme applauds the position of UNAIDS that female condoms should be part of the method mix of prevention methods, but we encourage UNAIDS to place more emphasis on the importance of variety and programming of female condoms.
We welcome the UNAIDS PCB document “AIDS Response in the Post-2015 Development Agenda” issued 28th May 2013. In the outlined progress, we appreciate the attribution of prevention strategies to a reduction in HIV infection rates. Barrier methods such as male and female condoms deserve a place of their own as essential parts of the established prevention toolkit.
The UNAIDS 2011-2015 Strategy rightfully acknowledges the importance of reducing new HIV infections; a focus on prevention is unbearable in achieving this. Sexual and reproductive health and rights play a crucial role in preventing HIV and AIDS. To avoid new infections, obtaining knowledge and skills through comprehensive sexuality education is crucial, in combination with access to prevention commodities such as male and female condoms. However, a lack of commodities is persisting; in 2009 only one female condom was available for every 36 women worldwide, and in Sub-Sahara Africa only 4 male condoms are available per person per year. To avoid new HIV infections, increased investment in comprehensive sexuality education and (male and female) condoms is necessary. At the same time, gender inequality is at the core of the feminization of the HIV epidemic, and with the largest numbers of new infections occurring amongst women, especially in Sub-Sahara Africa, women should be at the center of the UNAIDS Strategy, for example in the “Gaps in Prevention” section.
Women-initiated and women-controlled methods of prevention, of which female condoms currently are the only available method, remain undervalued in both the UNAIDS 2011-2015 Strategy and the AIDS Response in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. As the only female-initiated dual barrier method, protecting against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections including HIV, female condoms are a powerful tool and should play a more prominent role in the implementation plans to meet the HIV-related needs of women and girls.
While UNAIDS acknowledges the important role of research in the area of HIV prevention to ensure that services better address the rights and specific needs of women, young women and girls, we urge UNAIDS to stronger express the need for more research on women-initiated and controlled prevention methods such as female condoms. With more different types of female condoms on the market, women and men are offered choice. Increased market competition and economies of scale will facilitate a larger variety and reduced prices. Coupled with improved distribution systems (via public and private sector), increased access to prevention methods will lead to increased protected sex acts. Without a product there is no program, but without a program there is no increase in sustained end-users.