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SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: Anyone for a female condom?

A health professional demonstrates how to use a female condom
SÃO TOMÉ, 23 February 2009 (PlusNews) - Women in São Tomé and Príncipe have a new way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

In late January, the initial phase of a government programme, coordinated by the Reproductive Health Programme (known by the Portuguese-language acronym PSR) and the National Programme for the Fight Against AIDS (PNLS), began distributing 3,500 free female condoms.

"This is a special moment for a lot of São Tomean women," said Maria Tomé, minister of health and the family at a launch ceremony in São Tomé, the capital.

Elisabete Carvalho, who coordinates the Health Ministry's Reproductive Health Programme, said the female condom could give women more control over their sexual health. "We want this to give them greater decision-making power, because they're the most vulnerable."

According to data from the Reproductive Health Programme, 12.1 percent of girls experience early pregnancy, while 1.5 percent of São Tomé's approximately 150,000 people are living with HIV.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has donated a limited number of female condoms for the first phase of the campaign. "If there is a major demand, we'll distribute more of them," said PNLS Director Alzira do Rosário.

The condoms are available at hospitals and health centres all over São Tomé and Príncipe, along with information pamphlets about the proper use of the contraceptive.

Radio and television stations have been broadcasting messages about the advantages of the female condom before and after popular Brazilian soap operas and the evening news, when audiences are at their peak.

Women speak

Tchai Martins, 26, was told about the new contraceptive method during a check-up at the Mother-Infant Centre in São Tomé, but after inspecting the prophylactic, which is 17cm long, she told IRIN/PlusNews: "If I were to change my method, this would be the last one I'd adopt."

''If I bring this home, my husband will think a million different things''
Mena Xavier, 35 and a mother of three, also had doubts. "São Tomean men are very aggressive. If I bring this home, my husband will think a million different things," she said. "I'll even run the risk of him beating me, because he refuses to have sex with a condom."

Around 30 women per day visit the centre for pre-natal and family planning consultations; in the first week of the initiative, nine of them decided to adopt the new contraceptive method.

Adelaide Mendonça, 23, was optimistic that female condoms had the potential to encourage greater autonomy. "Now women can act differently when their partners don't have condoms," she commented.

See also: UGANDA: Ditched female condom makes a comeback

Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

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

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