Latin American and U.S. Latina Women Unite to Demand Access to the Female Condom

For Immediate Release

Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)
Contact: 

Mary Beth Hastings
Phone: 202-393-5930
301-768-3232

Latin American and U.S. Latina Women Unite to Demand Access to the Female Condom

World AIDS Day Statement Highlights Women's Unmet Needs for HIV Prevention, Calls on Governments to Increase Investment in Family Planning Methods

WASHINGTON - An international coalition of organizations that represent Latin
American women and Latina women in the United States is demanding
increased access to the female condom as an essential strategy to fight
HIV/AIDS. 

The 37-member coalition, which includes
28 organizations from 11 Latin American nations and 9 Latina advocacy
and service organizations from the U.S., has released a World AIDS Day
statement that calls on governments and international donors to step up
their investment in programs that distribute the female condom and
educate women and men on its use.
 
"The female condom is a critical tool that holds many important
advantages for women and their partners.  But global distribution of
the female condom remains astonishingly low fifteen years after it was
introduced," said Dr. Carmen Valenzuela-Dall, a Guatemalan physician
and a senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Health and
Gender Equity (CHANGE).

Dr. Valenzuela noted that the female condom can play an important role
in strengthening HIV prevention at a time when HIV/AIDS is increasingly
becoming a women's pandemic.  Women now account for one-third of all
people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, and Latina women in the
U.S. represent sixteen percent of all new HIV infections, a rate that
is four times the rate for non-Latina white women.

"The need for HIV prevention that women can initiate is an issue that
transcends borders," said Yolanda Rodriguez-Escobar of Mujeres Unidas
Contra el SIDA in San Antonio, Texas.  "The feminization of the
epidemic in our communities demands a woman-centered response."

"Research shows that when women and men have access to the female
condom and education on its use, it becomes a product that they
demand," Dr. Valenzuela added. "The female condom strengthens HIV
protection by providing women with a method that they can initiate with
their partners.  It also alleviates male condom fatigue by providing
couples with another family planning option and another way to practice
safe sex."

The coalition has praised recent steps by the Brazilian government and
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to
increase the purchase and distribution of female condoms to women and
men in communities heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS.  But Dr. Valenzuela
notes that HIV prevention programs are still not providing women with
adequate education on the female condom.  Global distribution of the
female condom also remains extremely low relative to the male condom.

In 2007, twenty-seven million female condoms were purchased by HIV
prevention programs worldwide, the equivalent of just one female condom
per year for every sixty-two women aged 15 to 49.  By comparison,
between six and nine billion male condoms were purchased.

"Global investment in programs that provide women and men with
affordable access to HIV prevention methods has stagnated over the past
decade, and federal government funding for U.S. family planning
programs has remained flat for several years," Dr. Valenzuela said.
"Women want to take steps to protect themselves, their partners, and
their families, but they cannot do so if they don't have affordable
access to male and female condoms."

The coalition has called on national governments and international
donors to dramatically increase investments in the purchase,
distribution and programming of female condoms worldwide.

Coalition members are supporters of Prevention Now! -- an international
female condom advocacy campaign that was launched at the International
AIDS Conference in 2006.

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Prevention Now!, an initiative of the Center for Health and Gender Equity,  is a global campaign led by advocates around the world who are working to prevent the spread of HIV, reduce unintended pregnancy, and advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people.  Prevention Now! is supported by more than two hundred organizations in forty-five countries. For more information, go to www.preventionnow.net

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