Despite the anti-condom policies of the Bush administration, U.S. shipments of female condoms quadruple, new report suggests.
The Center for Health and Gender Equity says the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, 2004, discouraging use of female condoms, has not stopped the growing tide of condom exports.
In its report, Saving Lives Now: Female Condoms and the Role of U.S. Foreign Aid
, the Centre has lashed out at the neocon policies that failed to take into account the grim realities across many parts of the world.
The female condoms still represent less than two percent of U.S. international condom procurement, it says.
In 2007, women represented half of HIV infections worldwide, and 61 percent of HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most heavily impacted by HIV and AIDS. Given the epidemic's increasing impact on women, HIV prevention experts widely agree that access to a full range of approved prevention methods—especially those women can initiate—is critical in the struggle to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
"It is distressing that women make up half of those infected by HIV and policy makers are refusing to provide women with the tools they need to negotiate safer sex," said Serra Sippel, Executive Director of the Center.
"The U.S. and other donors must increase comprehensive funding for the purchase, distribution and programming of female condoms to ensure that women and men have access to female condoms and know how to use them."
The report found that female condoms were available in 108 countries, but they are not readily accessible in most countries. The U.S. has supplied female condoms to 30 countries over the past decade and to 16 countries in 2007.
Nearly 26 million female condoms were distributed worldwide in 2007, compared to 11 billion male condoms. Despite their proven effectiveness and acceptability, female condoms account for just 0.2 percent of total global condom supply.
"The best approach to HIV prevention is one that provides the most options," said Mitchell Warren, Executive Director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) and long-time advocate of the female condom.
"There is no single magic bullet to stop HIV and AIDS—and there never will be. This means that world leaders have an ethical and moral obligation to provide people with the most comprehensive set of prevention options available.
"Right now that means making the female condom a fundamental component of HIV programs everywhere. And by building and strengthening programs to deliver the female condom now, we can create successful pathways to introduce new female-initiated methods when they become available in the future."
Numerous studies have indicated that female condom effectiveness is comparable to male condoms in preventing HIV and unintended pregnancy. Though U.S. funds support social marketing programs for female condoms in several countries, these efforts are often under-funded and short-lived.
An expert interviewed for the report stated, "Female condoms have had only half-baked programming—so when the program fails, the blame is often put on the product rather than the programming or lack of it."
Bernice Heloo, President of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa, an organization that championed female condom introduction in Ghana, responded to the report's findings: "Female condoms have not failed; we have failed to conclusively promote a device that not only protects African women's reproductive health, but also empowers them by giving them a tool that can remain in their hands for many generations to come."
"In light of the Bush Administration's strong commitment to promoting abstinence and fidelity over condoms, we found its global leadership on female condoms quite surprising," stated Sippel. "But more action is needed. We hope that our report will help clarify the required steps to enhance female condom access, education and use worldwide."