By Stella Dawson
WASHINGTON (TrustLaw) - It’s shiny, translucent and has a fulsome cut, offering ease of movement and plenty of pleasure, the perfect fit for the modern woman who wants to control her sexual health.
Female condoms stitched into flowing gowns by designers from the Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Netherlands and Kenya were on display at a fashion show here at the AIDS 2012 conference in Washington to promote the protective devices as a fun and effective barrier against HIV infection.
The flounces and frills fashioned from floppy condoms were fine enough for a night full of dancing.
Emily Karechio, president of Muthaa Community Development Foundation in Nairobi, came up with the idea as a way to publicise the benefits of giving women a method of safe-sex she can control.
“I thought of the female. The female person she is beautiful and she can show off her body and everything,” said Karechio. “And it would be a very good platform to promote the condoms and to advocate for more condoms.”
The female condom has been around since 1993, but early versions got a bad name as baggy and noisy. However, users told a press conference that new models are svelte and sexy. And they can play an important role in lowering HIV infection rates.
Women account for half of HIV-carriers worldwide and their ranks are growing. Young women aged 15-24 are twice as likely to get infected as men in the same age group, and in sub-Saharan Africa their infection rates are eight times higher, according to UNAIDS.
The advantage of the female condom, which is 97 percent effective in protecting against the HIV virus - the same as the male condom, is that it gives a woman control over her sexual health since she can insert it several hours before intercourse, said Nienke Blauw, a coordinator for the Universal Access to Female Condoms programme.
“It helps prevent HIV in a huge way because it empowers the woman to make the decision herself,” she said.
But the female condom is costlier. It accounts for only about 1 percent of the billions of condoms distributed free worldwide by aid agencies. The wholesale price for agencies is about 45 to 60 cents each, compared with 3 cents for a male condom, according to the United Nations AIDS programme UNAIDS.
Campaigners are trying to reduce this price differential by creating more demand for female condoms and by convincing agencies which distribute condoms that they will lower costs in the long run by reducing the infection rates and therefore the amount they spend on treatment.
They have the support of Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corp. and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He told a youth forum at the conference that women-controlled methods to prevent infection are an important missing link in the health arsenal to combat the spread of AIDS.
Mpendwa Abinery, a member of Women Living with HIV in Tanzania, was at the fashion show in Washington lobbying for their free distribution. “We already have enough women infected. We don’t want further infections. We want free condoms,” she said.
So are the runways of Milan and Paris next for Emily Karechio’s female condom fashion collection? “We will go everywhere to promote the female condoms to promote the woman’s protective initiative. We will do whatever it takes,” said Karechio.