The use of female condoms appears to be rising in South Africa, which has become its second largest market in the world.
South Africa has among the highest incidence of HIV/Aids globally and the use of female condoms forms a focal point of government's national program of ABC abstinence, be faithful, condomise message, with distribution increasing from 1.3 million in 2001/02 to 2.6 million in 2004/05. For 2005/06 the target was to distribute three million female condoms.
Mags Beksinska, executive director of the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit, at the University of Witwatersrand said, "I believe that its phased introduction over the years has gained momentum," Beksinska said that measurement of the impact of female condoms in the country was difficult because these changes needed to be measured in protected sex acts.
Figures have shown that in South Africa one in four women are HIV positive by the age of 24, which is twice the infection rate for men.
According to Beksinska the introduction of a new method of protection takes several years for general acceptance, and as a method available it has become known by over half of women of a reproductive age.
Eleanor Sopili, an HIV-positive Cape Town woman said that when she started using the female condom, it felt a "little bit funny". However she said, "But as you continue using it, there is no difference between that and the male condom."
Katy Pepper, African region program manager at the not-for-profit Female Health Foundation, said that the initial response to female condoms in the country was fairly good. At present barriers to the program include a lack of staff training, lack of promotional materials, lack of understanding, lack of access, and bias among medical staff.
The first generation female condom, FC1, is presently marketed as a strong, soft, transparent polyurethane sheath about 17 centimeters long, the same length as a male condom.
The new synthetic latex FC2 would probably available in SA by next year.
The FC1 is inserted into the vagina prior to sexual intercourse, providing protection against both sexually transmitted infections as well as HIV/Aids. In fact the condoms have been reported to be used by gay men as well.