SEATTLE — Women in developing countries often have little or no say when it comes to whether or not, and when, they will begin families. It is estimated that 222 million women want to postpone pregnancy but are unable or unsure how to do so. Around 38 percent of the 210 million pregnancies that happen every year are unplanned, and every hour over 50 women are infected with HIV. Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation issued a challenge for developers to create a “next generation” condom, and 11 entries were given the $100,000 investment to create their designs.
Although these condoms will benefit people through incentivizing safe sex, the top winners were all male condoms. Sometimes women in developing countries cannot request that their partners wear condoms. Sometimes men complain that wearing a condom makes sex less pleasurable. Sometimes it goes against culture or religion to wear condoms. Because of these potential issues with male condoms, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has begun funding female condoms as well.
Of all new HIV infections, 95 percent occur in developing countries, especially Africa. A new, air-infused female condom is being developed by Condax Medical Products that could help protect women against STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
The condom is designed so that it can be inserted up to six hours before intercourse. This allows women who feel unsafe, or know they will be in an unsafe situation, to provide themselves extra protection. The condom is also designed to enhance pleasure for both parties, so both men and women will want to use them. The technology involved is similar to some types of sneakers, which use air to support feet. The condoms fill with air to provide support for men, and this design allows them to be removed safely and easily by suctioning onto the man.
These condoms put women in control of their sexual health and allow them to decide how they want to grow their families. This power has wide-ranging effects, including reducing infant mortality because of untimely pregnancy and reducing adolescent pregnancy. It also puts less strain on resources by decreasing the rate of population growth. It also allows for a more educated, healthier population because parents can invest more time and care into each child.
The rates of contraceptive use across the globe have risen only slightly over the past 20 years, growing from 54 percent to 57 percent. The most marked rises are in Asia and Latin America, while Africa still hovers around 24 percent usage. Providing affordable, effective contraception could be the key to raising these numbers.
There are many reasons why contraception is not used. All modern methods are not always available, and the methods that exist are not always attainable. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding ways to allow contraception to reach people who need it, and it is also working to make sure that contraception is used by the people who need it most. The foundation pledged $20 billion between the years 2012 and 2020 toward bringing better birth control to those in need of it.
By funding female condoms, the foundation puts control of their futures into the hands of the people most affected by unsafe sexual practices — women. These condoms allow women to protect themselves without needing to rely on a reluctant partner to do his part.
Granted, another goal with ongoing efforts is to encourage men to want to be safe as well. The 11 new condoms funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation demonstrate this. There is also funding going toward birth-control pills, but at the moment, the female condom is the most realistic way to put power in the hands of women. Women with control can determine how large their families become, and when. This protects their children’s futures and their own.
Sources: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 1, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 2, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 3, The Seattle Times, The Week, WHO