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Hair salons come to rescue of female condom
Thursday 21 October 2004
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ZIMBABWE: Hair salons come to rescue of female condom

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


The female condom was introduced in Zimbabwe six years ago

BULAWAYO, 14 October (PLUSNEWS) - Besides styling hair, Zimbabwean hairdressers are now making waves by promoting the female condom as a protective device against HIV/AIDS.

After struggling for six years to sell the contraceptive sheath, partly because it required interacting with women to allow them to ask questions about its use, condom manufacturer PSI-Zimbabwe has settled on engaging hairdressers to popularise the product by using their natural interpersonal skills.

Like the male condom, the female sheath was originally dispensed through conventional outlets: supermarkets, clinics and pharmacies. However, PSI-Zimbabwe had to change its distribution strategy after recognising that there were difficulties involved in the use of the product.

"We (PSI-Zimbabwe) asked ourselves some questions, like 'where do women spend a lot of their time?' and 'who would they be most comfortable talking to about such an intimate topic?' Perhaps not so surprisingly, the answers were that women spent most of their time at home and at hair salons, and so was born the hair-salon and the home-meeting initiatives," PSI-Zimbabwe said in a statement on Thursday.

Over the past few months the company has trained about 800 hairdressers at 230 hair salons across the country in interpersonal communication skills to articulate and demonstrate the use of the female condom.

"The hairdressers cover important facts about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate its use - giving women first-hand access to an otherwise difficult product - and sell to those interested in buying it," PSI-Zimbabwe said.

A recent study by the contraceptive producer, which polled 400 women who visited the hair salons enrolled in the initiative, found that 59 percent of them felt they were at risk of contracting HIV; about 65 percent identified the female condom as a basic prevention method against STDs and HIV; and 84 percent said they would be comfortable buying the condom at a hair salon.

Hairdressers who spoke to IRIN said the initiative was bearing fruit, with an increasing number of clients expressing an interest in trying the condom.

"Many clients say they could not buy the condom from shops and pharmacies, for fear of being ridiculed by other shoppers as prostitutes or immoral, but now that it is being sold at salons, where the sellers are women, they are much more comfortable in buying it," said hairdresser Memory Mabhena.

Zimbabwe has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 25 percent.


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