Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DC Will be First City to Distribute Free Female Condoms

Soon, D.C. will become the first U.S. city to distribute free female condoms. City officials will be distributing them in an effort to stem high HIV infection rates in the District. "Anywhere male condoms are available, female condoms will be available," says Shannon Hader, director of the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration.

The city accessed the state of HIV/AIDS in 2009 and discovered that at least 3% of district residents are HIV-positive – or 2,984 residents per every 100,000 over the age of 12.  Keep in mind that these statistics only represent people who have been tested, so the numbers may actually be higher.  In Maryland, Prince George's County, which borders the District, has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection rates after Baltimore.  The most current data available is from 2007 which says that there are 5,240 reported cases of infection in the county. 

 Officials recognize that distributing only male condoms leaves women to rely solely on men for protection.  Female infection rates are particularly high in DC – 58% are infected through heterosexual sex. The availability of a female condom gives women more control and an effective method to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and unintended pregnancy.

The female condoms have been available in CVS stores for purchase in the District since December.  The city intends to distribute the condoms to health clinics, high schools, social service organizations, and nontraditional places, like beauty salons. The nontraditional distribution and marketing of female condoms has proven to be a cost-effective method of HIV/AIDS prevention in countries like Zimbabwe.

In the past, female condoms have not been as widely distributed in the US because of their higher price in comparison to male condoms.  Female Health Co., the manufacturing company from which DC will purchase the female condoms, has created new version of the female condom, the FC2, which is more comfortable and less expensive.  Also, a $500,000 grant from the MAC AIDS Fund, a subsidiary of MAC cosmetics, helped DC to purchase a greater amount of condoms for more distribution.  

The new distribution program has the potential to help reduce HIV/STI rates in Maryland counties that border DC.  If the proximity to DC is seen as a contributing factor to the high HIV/STI rates in Prince George’s county, one would hope that successful prevention methods would have a similar affect in curbing infection rates.  Furthermore, if the DC program proves successful, perhaps Maryland officials will take the initiative to get a similar program started here. 

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