Limited knowledge in how to use a female condom is leaving many Rwandan women at the risk of getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, despite ongoing efforts to increase access.
And as a result, demand is still relatively low which in turns affects supply.
Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) figures show they only distributed 4,000 female condoms in comparison to the 31.4 million male condoms.
And this year they will distribute female 5,000 female and 33 million male condoms. A mini survey conducted by Rwanda Today over a three-week period in Kigali pharmacies, hospitals, and retail shops shows that female condoms are not available and the few found at private pharmacies were expensive.
Yet female condoms are of enormous importance to the fight against Aids because they are the only existing, effective female-controlled preventive tool against HIV and STIs.
However, their use has remained frustratingly and tragically low. The barriers of price and supply must be overcome. Female condoms must be brought within the reach of all women as a core part of the government’s commitment to moving towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.
More choice equals more protection. It’s that simple. Increased choice helps to empower women. As part of a rights-based approach to health care, women should by right have access to female condoms.
Research shows that the female condom is comparable to the male condom in its effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STIs.
Advocacy for the female condom, from the community level upwards, is needed to stimulate demand and increase access and availability.
Research by UNFPA shows that the use of female condom by commercial health workers could reduce their high risk for HIV and other STIs, especially as an option when clients refuse to use male condoms.
Perhaps more importantly, there is a need for training that includes insertion practice to improve acceptance of the female condom as many women are not familiar with how to use it. Public health experts argue that while teaching women to become familiar with their bodies and to gain confidence using vaginal methods, the female condom can ease the acceptance of other female-initiated products currently being developed, such as new cervical barriers and microbicides, which also will require insertion into the vagina.
More effort must be made to ensure that providers convey accurate, unbiased information about female condoms to their clients. Given that the female condom effectively protects against pregnancy and STIs and is the only female-initiated STI prevention method currently available, access to this method is a public health right that needs to be ensured for all couples.