Special Correspondent

Female condom programme launched in Chennai

CHENNAI: Reproductive and sexual rights of women got a fillip on Wednesday, as government and non-governmental organisations came together to launch the female condom programme in Chennai.

The programme has been initiated as part of the National AIDS Control Organisation's effort to provide female condoms to vulnerable populations in eight States, including Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The programme is expected to reach over 11,000 women across the country.

In Tamil Nadu, six sites Vellore, Salem, Kanyakumari, Tiruchi, Chennai and Madurai have been chosen by the two key agencies the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society and Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust. The actual implementation of the programme will be through NGO partners of the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI), AIDS Prevention and Control (APAC) and Chennai AIDS Prevention and Control Society (CAPACS).

The government's endorsement of the female condom programme came after similar pilot projects in other States received high approval ratings from the users, TANSACS project director, Supriya Sahu said. With fears about the `feminisation' of the epidemic coming true, the female condom would go a long way in ensuring that women can control their own safety factors. The aim would be to reach out to 3,000 women in Tamil Nadu in the current phase.

About 60,000 female condoms have been purchased at a cost of Rs. 1.8 lakh, funded by NACO. Though the market price is Rs.50, under the project, it was obtained by the State at Rs.3. The condoms will eventually be sold to women at Rs. 5 through peer educators who will make for themselves a margin of Rs.1.75 apiece.

Welcoming the initiative, Health secretary V.K. Subburaj said the female condom would help women keep themselves safe. Though the government is actively promoting the use of condoms women often find it difficult to insist that men use condoms. The female condom will be a major step in the effort to reduce women's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in Tamil Nadu.

Chennai Commissioner of Police Letika Saran released an information kit for peer educators and handed over the first copy to Geeta, a peer educator. Total empowerment of women could be guaranteed only if they have sexual and reproductive rights.

Kavitha Potturi, National Programme Manager, HLFPPT, gave an overview of the female condom programme in India.

The only existing effective female control tool against HIV/AIDS is the female condom, she said and added that there were 10 years of continuous evidence of the effectiveness of the product. Lakshmi Bai of TAI and Ezhil Pari, NGO co-ordinator, VHS APAC, spoke.