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AFRICA: Cheaper female condom will increase accessibility
October 11, 2005

JOHANNESBURG - Women in sub-Saharan Africa will soon benefit from a cheaper version of the female condom, enabling them to negotiate safer sex with their male partners.

The prohibitive cost of the female condom has prevented many women in developing countries from accessing the prevention device, but a new second-generation female condom made of synthetic latex could change this, experts told PlusNews.

Many HIV/AIDS advocacy groups see the female-controlled barrier method as a significant alternative available to women for empowering themselves against infection.

"The [new material] allows us to manufacture larger volumes, and this could cause a significant reduction in price," Mary Ann Leeper, president of the US-based Female Health Company (FHC) told PlusNews.

Last week female condom manufacturer FHC announced that the second-generation female condom (FC2) would be made available to developing countries, and that smaller, poorer nations would be able to purchase the product by forming a coalition.

"If countries in a region come together as a collective and place a large order [with FHC], this will allow the smallest country to get the best possible price," Leeper noted.

Depending on the volume of condoms purchased, the FC2 could be sold for as little as US $0.22 per unit. The existing female condom, made from the more expensive polyurethane, sells for US $0.72 per unit.

"This is excellent news ... now that the price has been cut - potentially by two-thirds - we must distribute the FC2 Female Condom as rapidly as possible. This is a very real advance for women around the world," said Zena Stein, co-director of the HIV Centre for Clinical and Behavioural Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, in a statement.

Researchers at the Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU) in Durban, South Africa, conducted studies to assess the performance and acceptability of the new female condom and found that there was no difference in performance.

"About a third of the women who used both condoms said they were the same, and people found it difficult to say which was one was which," Mags Beksinska, RHRU deputy executive director commented.

Compared to the male condom, however, uptake of the female condom has been slow.

Beksinska said: "Ultimately the female condom is still expensive, and the idea is to bring it down to the price of the male condom ... but synthetic latex is still more expensive than latex [the material used to manufacture male condoms]."

Last year between six and nine billion male condoms were distributed globally, but only 12 million female condoms were made available during the same period.

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