There have been many a controversy about female condoms, but it seems South African women have proven themselves to be forward-thinking in this respect.
Following the National Female Condom Evaluation study conducted by the MatCH Research Unit and cited in the Health Systems Trust (HST) National Health Review it appears that South Africa is one of the world’s largest users of female condoms.
The HST released the results of many studies in the South African Health Review for 2017. It's the 20th year this report has been released.
Progress in SA
After the female condom programme was piloted in 1998, it has grown to be one of the largest government-funded programmes worldwide.
"27 million female condoms were distributed in South Africa in 2015/2016, exceeding the country’s National Strategic Plan (NSP) target of 25 million annually by 2016," the report noted.
The National Department of Health (NDoH) has stated in the HIV National Strategic Plan (NSP) that one of their aims in attempting to prevent new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections and sexually transmitted infections (STI) is to increase the access and distribution of female condoms along with male condoms.
The leading reason for the study was to gauge the progress of the female condom programme – if it was well-received by the public, if couples were in fact making use of it and to establish several factors affecting the programme.
One of the interesting outcomes of the study was to what extent popularity of the contraceptive device had increased.
Over 4 400 anonymous surveys were conducted, and more than 77% of people – male and female – in all nine provinces had heard about the female condom, but very few had ever made use of it.
The National Female Condom Evaluation Study done between 2014 and 2016 displayed the number of subjects who had ever used a female condom and while the number is quite a high between the ages of 20 and 29 years, it displayed a gap between the 18- to 20-year-olds – an extremely important age bracket to target.
By the time their first month interview had arrived, 91% of 598 women had made use of the female condom and the remaining number who had not used it, cited reasons such as it was difficult to use and that their partners refused to use it.
When their six-month interview took place, most women reported that their partners were supportive of them using the female condom – the number had risen to 97%.
Males also on board
Males were also interviewed and at their first month interview, 58% had said the female condom was either better or much better than the male condom, and by the 12-month interview, the percentage rose to 74%.
Over the years a few changes have been made to the condoms and their packaging. For several years following the pilot project, there had been only one female condom distributed by the NDoH. This condom was classified as "FC1" (female condom 1).
Then FC1 was replaced by the "FC2" (female condom 2), which was made from synthetic latex, but the FC2 would eventually be flanked by two other variants – Cupid and Pleasure More. These new products were gradually introduced to the public through various public and private sectors.
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