July 2006: THP-Malawi HIV/AIDS Program Feature in Malawi News

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This month, THP-Malawi work was featured in Malawi News July 29-August 4, 2006 with a full-page exclusive interview with Flora Longwe, the HIV/AIDS and Gender Project Officer. The article is below.

Interview

The Hunger Project has been distributing female condoms since 2003 to its impact areas of Zomba, Blantyre and Chikwawa districts. Our reporter DEOGRATIAS MMANA caught up with the project’s HIV/AIDS and Gender Officer Flora Longwe to find out the assessment of the exercise. Excerpts:

What prompted The Hunger Project to start distributing the female condom?

It was demand driven. It was during a focus group discussion in 2003 at Jali epicenter in Zomba that one of the women wondered as to why manufacturers of condoms only manufacture a male condom and not a condom for women. What the women did not know was that there was a female condom already. So The Hunger Project started acquiring the female condom from the UNFPA to supply it to the communities.

What reasons did they give for preferring a female condom?

The women complained that they did not feel safe in negotiating for safe sex in the wake of HIV and AIDS. They said men used to cheat them. The women said men would tell them that they had forgotten a male condom at a crucial time of sex during which a woman would be powerless to do anything to postpone sex. Other men would prick the male condom to deliberately infect the women. Other men would pull off the condom in the course of sex. So they wanted something that could protect them.

Did you carry out much civic education as to how women should use the condom?

The Hunger Project brought the female condom to the impact areas through its 160 HIV/AIDS projects using specialized animators based in the impact areas. These animators train the communities how to use the condom. We do not distribute the condoms before the people are aware of how to use it. If the users have any complications, they can go back to the animators for help.

How may condoms have you distributed so far?

A good number of women have benefited. I should also point out that even men are accessing the female condom. A total of 32,000 female condoms have been distributed in all impact areas of Hunger Project Malawi thus Jali and Nsondole in Zomba, Mpingo in Blantyre and Nchalo in Chikwawa districts.

You would be interested to know that 64.7 percent of the women access the female condom while 35.2 percent are men. On average, highest consumption level is 46 percent and it has observed in the 19-30 year age group.

Yes, people have access to the female condom but is it acceptable in the communities?

On average, about 44 percent of all people that have consumed these female condoms are repeated users against 56 percent of first users. This indicates that more people having tried the female condom, are coming back to access it. This provides evidence that the female condom is being accepted. Since 2003 there has been an observable excitement and awareness on female condoms.

A female condom is expensive and scarce. What sustainable programmes do you have in case UNFPA stops supplying the condoms to you?

Yes, indeed UNFPA is the sole supplier of the female condom. At the moment we are advocating for increased supply of the female condom. We have already approached the National Aids Commission so that they can supply the condoms. NAC has told us that they would facilitate the importation of the female condoms and organizations would tap funding from it to purchase the condoms. That would scale up the supply of the female condom.

Hunger Project is renown for its fight against hunger. How does the female condom come in?

While the primary goal for The Hunger Project is to end hunger and poverty, the people involved in the fight in rural areas cannot work if they are sick. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has not spared them either. If we cannot protect them from the pandemic, efforts towards ending hunger would be in vain as many will be affected and infected. We do not want to see our people busy attending to patients instead of working in the fields. We want those that are already infected to avoid spreading the virus further. You know HIV/AIDS is a multi-sectoral issue and we cannot run away from it if we are to achieve food security.

By the way, how different is the female condom from the male condom?

The female condom can be worn eight hours before sexual intercourse while the male condom is worn just before the act. It is very ideal indeed, for example, in the case of rape. The woman cannot be infected if the man is HIV positive. Even in the case of commercial sexual workers, this condom is the right device. Men who force them to have unprotected sex would not know that the woman is already protected. In homes too where sometimes men come drunk and cannot manage to wear a male condom this female condom is ideal.

What are some of the disadvantages of the female condom?

There are no serious disadvantages. When it is worn just before sex, it makes noise. That is why it is advisable to wear it at least 30 minutes before sex to the maximum of eight hours so that it has enough time to settle properly inside the woman. It is also a bit expensive. In some shops it goes at about K300. And it is difficult to get it. You would not find it on the shelf. To get it you have to be on a list first.

What misconceptions or myths about the female condom did you get from the communities?

Some said the lubricant on the condom could cause cancer. Some feared that during sex the condom could be pushed deep into the inside of the vaginal wall and cause ulcers. Others thought that the rubber would irritate them and this was the same with the male condom when it was being introduced. Others too feared that the inside ring of the female condom would corrode inside the vaginal wall. But after using it, none came back to complain.

There is fear that some women might use one condom for more than one man and that is dangerous. Is that possible by the way?

That fear could be there but it is everybody’s responsibility to make sure that they are protected and that they are protecting others. I do not see a reason why any woman would use one condom twice after proper orientation and with good supply.

Is there consistency in the distribution of the condom in your areas?

Yes. When the distributor sees that his supply is getting low, she immediately requests for more condoms to our office and the office does the same to the UNFPA. You know for condom use to be effective, the condom should be used correctly and consistently.

What challenges does your organisation have in the distribution of the female condom exercise?

The main challenge is the supply. We are relying on UNFPA only as of now. If it pulls out there will be problems. We are also witnessing an increased demand for non-project impact areas, which is an indication for need for scaling up.

How do you see the future of the exercise?

It is promising. We just need to have more funding agencies to supply or support work on the female condom as they do with the male condom.

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