Female Condom needs major push to become socially more acceptable in India: Experts

Global community to celebrate Global Female Condom Day on September 16

New Delhi, Sept 16: Touted as a game-changer for expanding the basket of contraceptive choices, female condoms in India need a vigorous push for greater social acceptability as an easy, affordable and safe device for triple protection against unintended pregnancies and the trauma of unsafe abortions, besides STIs and HIV/AIDS.

As India joins the global community in observing Global Female Condom Day today (September 16), health experts believe that female condoms need to be competitively priced with better availability to meet some ambitious UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) like promoting gender equality, reducing the maternal mortality ratio and mortality rate among children under five years of age, and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Globally, female condoms were invented in the 1980s and have been around in the market for around three decades.

India has taken the lead in South Asia by manufacturing a contraceptive exclusively for women. Manufactured by HLL Lifecare Ltd (HLL), a ‘mini Ratna’ PSU, it was commercially launched in 2007 under the brand name Velvet. However, the female condom has not achieved the desired level of acceptability due to conservative mindsets, poor awareness, lack of accessibility and inhibitions among its users.

“Despite a subdued sale, India’s first female condom has the potential to become a game-changer. An increase in demand alone will help to keep the price affordable,” said Mr. Sharad Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, HLFPPT.

“Contraception in India has largely been male-centric, an absolute prerogative and choice of men. Female condom has broken that mould by empowering women to have a major role in matters of sexual freedom and reproductive health. It allows married women to space their pregnancies and save them from the trauma of unsafe abortions,” he added.

Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT), one of the country’s largest voluntary bodies in the health sector and a trust promoted by HLL, has been engaged in advocating and promoting the female condom among vulnerable women in India at a highly subsidized price in partnership with National AIDS Control Society (NACO).

An study conducted by HLFPPT it in Karnataka, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh revealed that the female condom had the potential to become the contraceptive of choice and one of the safest methods to control fertility.

Developed in strict adherence to the protocols set by WHO/UNFPA, the superior quality latex female condom is targeted at contemporary Indian women and new age couples, besides women sex workers.

“The female condom should not be perceived as a niche product for High Risk Groups like female sex workers only. However, they need it to address their vulnerability more than any other,” points out Dr Anasua Bagchi, head of the technical services division, HLFPPT.

“The unmet need of female condoms in India is huge. We need to create a surge in its demand among larger population and place the product as a women-empowering option in the basket of family planning choices. The issue has assumed a sense of urgency, given the fact people are becoming sexually active at a younger age, and India is no exception,” she added.   

Governments the world over need to leverage it as a potent family planning tool and integrate it in their policies and budgets. The issue is particularly relevant for a country like India which is confronted with a burgeoning population while women have little freedom in planning and spacing childbirths.

UNFPA estimates around 215 million women worldwide who would like to limit/plan number of children, but are not currently using any form of contraception. A greater use of female condoms can go a long way in fulfilling the unmet needs of contraception through new choices and additional/alternate option to male condoms.  Also, actions to prevent HIV/AIDS are 28 times more cost-effective than treatment.

According to a global WHO finding, over 2.5 million adolescents undergo unsafe abortion procedures, and face the hazard of complication.

In 2012, UN Commission on Life-saving Commodities for Women and Children had identified and approved an initial list of 13 life-saving commodities, and the list included female condoms.

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