Pilot study: good response to female prophylactic in TN

Published in The Hindu on August 28, 2008

The pilot project, where female condoms were provided to female sex workers (FSW) to help keep HIV infection at bay and undertaken at 11 sites across five States in the country, has met with a good response. The initiative was started on a pilot scale in March last year. Plans are now to scale it up. The scaled-up project will begin in October.

Tamil Nadu was one of the five States where the pilot project was undertaken. The other States were Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

Good experience

“The overall experience has been good,” said Ms. K. Sujatha Rao, the Director-General of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Delhi. “We will soon scale up the programme.”

The scaled-up programme will be restricted to four States — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra — where the response was better than that in Karnataka.

“If there is a good response [in the four States], then we may scale it up even further [to cover the entire country],” said Ms. Rao. Such a countrywide coverage may happen during the current financial year.

Best response

According to Mr. Manoj Gopalakrishna, the response was the best in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Mr. Gopalakrishna is the Chief Executive Officer of Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust, Delhi. The Trust provides NACO the technical support for the condom programme.

“The response was the best in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, in terms of product usage and repeat buying. The second best were West Bengal and Maharashtra,” said Mr. Gopalakrishna.

“About 90 per cent who bought the product have actually used them. And of the 90 per cent, about 65 per cent used them consistently,” Mr. Gopalakrishna said.

If 5 lakh female condoms were distributed to 64,000 sex workers in the five States in the pilot project, the scaled-up programme in the four States, which may start in October, will see 15 lakh condoms being distributed to the target group.

According to Ms. Supriya Sahu, Project Director of the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS), female condoms will become a part of the strategy in the scaled up programme wherever the project is taken up with sex workers.

The pilot project in Tamil Nadu was taken up in six districts — Chennai, Madurai, Salem, Vellore, Trichy and Kanyakumari. The scaled-up programme will cover all the districts.

“We sold more than 80,000 condoms in six months’ time. About 12,000 FSWs were covered under the programme,” Ms. Sahu said.

A female prophylactic greatly empowers women especially when males refuse to use condoms.

Only choice

And when no medicines are available to cure HIV and no vaccines to prevent infection, the only way to remain uninfected is by not indulging in risky behaviour or by using a prophylactic every time one indulges in such acts.

But for female sex workers, a prophylactic is the only recourse.

“Using a female condom is an ideal choice when men refuse to use condoms,” said Dr. R. Lakshmi Bai, Project Director of TAI-VHS, Chennai.

According to Dr. Bai, the sex workers had to be trained to use it correctly and educated on the need to use them. Motivating them and sending a powerful empowerment message were equally important, especially when the condoms were not provided free of cost.

TAI-VHS had sold 30,000 pieces to NGOs in two districts (Salem and Vellore) over a period of one year. The total number of FSWs covered was 4,200 in the two districts.

Unlike the male condoms, the female prophylactic is not given free of cost. Individuals have to pay Rs.5 a piece. The good response, when the price paid is factored in, makes it all the more encouraging.

The response may be better during the scaled up programme as the cost of the prophylactic will be Rs.3 a piece. “That is because they we will manufacture them in India and not import them from London,” said Mr. Gopalakrishna.

When manufactured in India, the actual cost will be Rs.23 as against Rs.45 when they are imported. And what will be manufactured in India will be the newer second generation ones.