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Statement of Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, General Secretary, World YWCA

GENEVA, November 21 /PRNewswire/ --

- A Call to Action to Accelerate Worldwide Distribution of The Female Condom

As World AIDS Day approaches, leaders of the YWCA across Africa are coming together to call on national governments and international donors to accelerate distribution of the female condom to women in developing countries. The global AIDS pandemic is rapidly evolving into a pandemic for women, and we urgently need female controlled prevention methods that are accessible to women in the fight against AIDS.

The World YWCA is issuing a direct appeal to national health ministries, foreign aid agencies and international NGOs. We call on these entities to sign agreements in 2006 that will commit them to purchasing a minimum of 180 million of the second-generation female condom for annual global distribution. We also call on governments to ensure that the female condom is marketed to women in local communities and promoted as an effective method to prevent HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

We demand this level of commitment because research has shown that the coordinated purchase of 180 million female condoms will immediately drive down their cost by more than two-thirds -- to 22 cents. This is still a high cost for many of the world's women who earn less than US$1 per day, but it will make female condoms more accessible to the millions of women who live every day of their lives at risk of HIV infection.

Women and girls need access to the full range of HIV preventive tools available. But last year, national governments and international donors made only 12 million female condoms available for worldwide distribution while they distributed between six and nine billion male condoms. Three male condoms were purchased for every man on earth, but only one female condom for every 250 women. This is a gross disparity that must be addressed.

Accelerated female condom distribution and education is essential. HIV infection rates among women are rising disproportionately to men in every region of the world, and young women and girls account for 76 percent of infections among African youth. And when AIDS affects women, it affects entire families and communities, tearing apart social safety nets and fueling instability and conflict. There are now more than 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa, many of whom drop out of school, struggle for daily survival and are subject to exploitation and abuse. Clearly the future of Africa and developing nations is tied to what we do for women -- and to what we enable women to do for themselves.

Female condoms remain the only tool for HIV prevention that women can initiate and control. Research in South Africa and Brazil has shown that female condom use -- even at current low levels -- can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in public health spending. And a new second-generation female condom is being made that will allow dramatic reductions in price according to the quantities purchased. What is needed to achieve affordable global access to the female condom is the will and commitment of national health ministries and international donors.

We are confident that when women achieve real and sustained access to the female condom, many will see it as a viable option to protect themselves against HIV. Studies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have established this fact. When women receive the female condom and are educated on its use, it becomes an item they demand. And women can often negotiate the use of female condoms in situations where use of the male condom is difficult or not possible due to personal or cultural constraints.

As experienced advocates for women's health worldwide, we believe that grassroots demand for the female condom will grow as more women use it. And to help create this demand, we are pleased to announce that the maker of the second-generation female condom -- the Female Health Company -- has agreed to provide thousands of free female condoms for HIV education programs conducted by YWCAs around the world. Currently, the World YWCA has work in 68 countries that educates women and girls about HIV and AIDS and prevention methods.

We recognise, however, that we must make specific demands to achieve specific results. That is why representatives of the YWCA are calling for the accelerated purchase of 180 million female condoms per year and accompanying education and community distribution. We bring our demand to world attention in advance of World AIDS Day.

All prevention methods have their place, and people make choices based on the realities of their lives. Abstinence, faithfulness in marriage and male condoms all are valid prevention methods. However, the female condom provides an opportunity for women to actively take part in the discussion on condom use, and it enables women to be in a position where they can offer to protect themselves, rather than waiting to be protected. Access to the full range of HIV prevention tools is essential if we are to protect women, men, and children from AIDS. It is time to demand equal protection.

About the author:

Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is leader of the World YWCA, a global organisation that unites 25 million women and girls in 122 countries through 100 independent national YWCA programs. Dr Kanyoro currently provides volunteer leadership for a number of non-government organisations as the President of the World Association of Christian Communication and ISIS-Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange. Dr Kanyoro has made a significant contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS as coordinator of the 400-member Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians and a board member of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. She also serves on the International Planning Group on HIV/AIDS and Faith-Based Organizations for UNAIDS, and on an advisory panel for Alan Guttmacher Institute focused on protecting new generations from HIV infection. Dr Kanyoro is a Kenyan national.


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