New provider kits spark interest in female condom

Are your patients missing out on information about the female condom? A host of new resources have been developed to help clinicians on a national and international basis get out the word on the female condom.

American clinicians will want to take advantage of a new information kit with a "train the trainer" approach developed by the Female Health Company of Chicago, manufacturers of the Reality female condom.

Health program managers and those working in reproductive health programs in developing countries will be interested in obtaining a female condom information pack cosponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), both based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Demand for the female condom is growing, as both women and men see it as protection against the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), says E. Maxine Ankrah, PhD, an associate director with AIDSCAP, Family Health International’s AIDS Control and Prevention Project, based in Arlington, VA. Evidence of this increased interest was borne out in a recent two-day conference hosted by AIDSCAP, when more than 130 participants from 19 countries gathered to discuss the method’s expanded use.

"Women really want the female condom," says Ankrah, whose work takes her around the globe to observe AIDSCAP research projects. "There is now no doubt in anybody’s mind that it is an acceptable device. And women across the world literally are asking, ‘What is holding it up?’ Women want it, and they want it now."

Raising the clinician’s comfort level

The new information kit from the Female Health Company is designed to help clinicians and educators get comfortable with the female condom, says company president and chief operating officer Mary Ann Leeper, PhD.

"What we have found is that a lot of the counselors and educators/trainers aren’t comfortable themselves about this new product," she says. "And if they’re uncomfortable with it, how can they possibly teach young people about how to use it? So we have put this all together and are quite excited about it."

The kit includes information for the clinician, counselor, educator, and outreach person, as well as for clinic directors, Leeper says. It includes helpful hints to help educate and perform outreach on the female condom, with fliers, handouts, video, and a script to help clinicians develop a comfortable dialogue with their patients about the female condom.

While final pricing figures were being set at Contraceptive Technology Update’s press time, those clinics already purchasing the Reality condom will receive the kit as part of their next purchase of two or more cases, Leeper announces. Kits also will be available for individual purchase at an estimated below-$20 price, she says. The company also plans a special pricing incentive to tie in with the introduction of the kit. (See source box, p. 97, for ordering information.)

Packs go to developing nations first

At the present time, efforts to distribute the WHO/UNAIDS information packs are being geared to those clinicians in reproductive health programs in developing countries, says Jane Cottingham, technical office for gender issues and women’s perspectives of the United Nations Development Programme/United Nations Population Fund/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development, and Research Training in Human Reproduction in Geneva. Due to the pressing needs of these countries, the packs will not be widely available to U.S. clinicians, she explains.

"The WHO and UNAIDS collaborated on this project because we feel it is very important not to separate the message of protection against STD/HIV from that of protection against pregnancy," Cottingham says. "The female condom should not be seen as a method only to achieve the former, but rather an additional contraceptive method that also provides much-needed protection against STDs."

Female condom as ‘woman-initiated’

Amid discussions on how to get female condoms distributed worldwide, participants at the international conference agreed on one thing: The method belongs to both women and men.

"The female condom should not be just introduced as just a woman-controlled method, but rather a woman-initiated method," Ankrah says. "If it is introduced for men and women, then men can purchase it for their wives to use."

This approach may take away the burden for many underprivileged women who don’t control the purse strings and may not see their way clear to purchase the condoms, Ankrah explains.

"One of the key things said at the conference was that this product is important for men to understand, as well as women, and that it facilitates women using it when their partner knows about it," Leeper observes. "A lot of partners just don’t like using male condoms, and they’re happy with the female condom because it’s a way for them to practice safe sex and yet not use a male condom."

(Editor’s note: See how peer support groups can help women overcome obstacles to female condom use in the next issue of Contraceptive Technology Update.)