In a concerted attempt to arrest the spread of the HIV virus, Indian health authorities are to distribute female condoms priced at a mere Rs.5 per piece to commercial sex workers across the country.
In the first phase, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) will be making it available in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in the south, Maharashtra in the west and West Bengal in the eastern region.
The NACO is procuring 15 lakh female condoms from UK's Female Health Company (FHC) for distribution in those four states in the next eight months. After reviewing data from them, the authorities would consider extending the programme to other parts of the country too.
NACO Director General K Sujatha Rao told the Times of India that an acceptability and feasibility study conducted by her organization found over 98 per cent of the users were comfortable using the condom and 60% went for it again.
The study involved 60,000 women in 13 sites — 11 involving high risk groups like sex workers and two family planning programmes — in eight states from November 2006. NACO had procured five lakh condoms from the FHC for the purpose.
Rao pointed out, "The pilot project was highly successful showing consistent use of the female condoms. We have, therefore, decided to scale up the programme under which we will first train women on how to use them."
Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said if the men were reluctant to go for condoms, the women ought to look for some device to protect themselves.
A senior official of the Hindustan Latex Limited said while till now the country had been importing female condoms, making them that much more expensive, a manufacturing unit had now been set up in Kochi in southern India.
"The FHC has transferred the condom manufacturing technology to us. We will manufacture 10 million pieces annually. Though the cost of making each condom will be Rs 40, it will be available to women for Rs 5 through 200 NGO-led targeted interventions."
Esther Bayliss from the Female Health Foundation said, "Female condoms — FC1 and FC2 — are the only ones approved by US FDA and WHO. These condoms are the first and only female-initiated barrier method that is safe and effective if used correctly and consistently providing dual protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy."
Nearly 40% of the 2.5 million HIV positive victims living in India are women, most of them hapless housewives who don't look at their husbands as a threat and commercial sex workers unable to negotiate with clients refusing to use a condom.