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ARE KENYANS HAVING MORE SEX OR GETTING MORE SENSE?

The Female Condom, 200/- each

Studies reveal that the demand for condoms in Kenya has increased to more than 200,000,000 pieces a year. According to the Ministry of Health Kenyans use about 20 million condoms every month which translates to about 670,000 daily!

Perhaps these figures explain why the HIV prevalence rate in Kenya has reduced, declining from its peak of 13.4 percent in 2000 and decreasing steadily to 6.9 percent in 2006. In 2008/09 HIV prevalence among women, however, was twice as high as that for men, 8 % and 4.3 % respectively. This disparity is even greater in young women aged 15-24 who are four times more likely to become infected with HIV than men of the same age.

In spite of these statistics, the male condom seems to be more popular and more readily available, selling for as little as Sh 10 and given out for free in government health facilities and most VCT centers. The story is rather different for the female condom which is less popular and costs Sh 200 per piece. As a result, the demand has shifted to the male condom and to most women who are at least aware of the female condom the product still remains a subsidiary product in the market.

The male condom, 10/- or free

Yet equipped with a female condom a woman gets control of using protection and does not have to solely rely on the man’s will to use protection. Women are always more at risk of acquiring STI’S and HIV hence there is a need for the female condom to be subsidised as well if STI and HIV prevalence rates are to drastically reduce.

According to a recent report, the price and availability of the female condom is not all women have to worry about though the report reveals that the use of the popular injectable contraceptives, in particular Depo-Provera,  doubles the risk of HIV infection in women. Out of the 45.5 per cent women in Kenya using contraceptives, half of them use injectables.

The injectables method is popular in Africa due to its affordability.  According to an article entitled Contraceptives Don’t Protect Against HIV in The Standard’s, My Health pullout, a reproductive health expert, Dr Joachim Osur, explained that ‘irrespective of the contraceptive method one uses’, a woman ‘ is not safe from contracting sexually transmitted diseases’, a view most experts seem to agree with.

However, The report published in the health journal Lancet Infectious Disease, has aroused a lot of debate with experts arguing that the allegations against the injectable contraceptives have no scientific link to back the evidence, adding that it was a ploy by condom manufacturers to sell more (read Daily Nation’s DN2 family planning method that ‘raises risk of HIV).

FEMALE CONTRACEPTION – SO WHAT’S THE ANWSER?

The final word on the matter now rests with the World health Organisation (WHO) which has been prompted by the report to convene a high level meeting of experts in January to clarify the research and  consider if the evidence is now strong enough to advise women that the method may increase their risk of getting or transmitting H.I.V.

As reported in The New York Times, Mary Lyn Gaffield, an epidemiologist in the World Health Organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said, “We want to make sure that we warn when there is a real need to warn, but at the same time we don’t want to come up with a hasty judgment that would have far-reaching severe consequences for the sexual and reproductive health of women.” She added, “This is a very difficult dilemma.”

Well a difficult dilemma it is, yes, trying to ensure that people aren’t panicked into giving up a sensible contraceptive precaution whilst at the same time giving them sufficient warning of any attendant risks associated with the method. However, clear guidance and soon, there needs to be. Meanwhile the Kenyan government should look seriously at bringing down the price of the female condom.


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