6 February 2018

Africa: 'Panty Condom' Hits Ugandan Market

Photo: Independent
A new condom said to be more pleasurable is undergoing tests to be used in Uganda.

Experts say it is more pleasurable and puts power in the hands of women

A new condom said to be more pleasurable is undergoing tests to be used in Uganda. The 'panty condom', as it is called, has already been given a greenlight by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology.

The condom is a combination of lingerie and a contraceptive made of polyurethane and intended for a one time use. It is anti-allergic and has been made with thinner than usual layer meant to make one have a no-condom feel, says Dr. Moses Muwonge, the Executive Director SAMASHA Medical Foundation, a local non-profit promoting the condom.

Made by a Columbian manufacturer, Innova Quality, the condom is likely to hit the market by October, according to Muwonge. This will be after six months of acceptability studies expected to start at Makerere University soon.

Once they are on the market, Muwonge anticipates that Uganda will be the hub of the device on the continent because his non-profit has secured a contract to supply the condom to the whole of Africa.

Muwonge is excited that women will this time have something that puts them in control.

"Women are frustrated by men who don't want to use condoms," Muwonge told The Independent, "We are now telling them that don't remove your panty if you are not sure your man has condom. This panty is your security."

He explained that one can wear the panty all day and only expose the device when about to have intercourse. "You only have to flip the slit", Muwonge says as he demonstrates how it is used. The panty has an opening which exposes the condom that looks no different from the current male condom. Once exposed, the condom unrolls on the penis during penetration.

A 2009 study on female condom use in Uganda by the Ministry of Health revealed that female condoms were mostly being taken up by sex workers but Muwonge is not targeting these.

He is aiming for a stylish corporate lady, a young woman or an adolescent girl. This is partly why the condom is in form of a G-string, a type of panty popular among that group. This group is also the most affected by HIV in Uganda.

Preliminary results of the Uganda Population based HIV Impact Assessment survey released last year show prevalence among this group of 15 to 24 years was at 7.6% compared to males at 4.7%.

But Muwonge says the new condom targets men too. For him, once men realize that if they do not carry a condom, a woman will have one they will also start carrying one. In addition he says, the panty looks good for both sexes.

'A search for a more pleasurable condom'

Vastha Kibirige, the Condom Coordination Officer at Ministry of Health, who has been in the condom business for more than twenty years is as excited and full of anticipation as Muwonge. This is exactly how Kibirige and her colleagues at PATH an NGO that specializes in health innovation felt in 1998 when a 'Fermidome' also known as FC 1 was introduced in Uganda.

"We said finally women have got something they can control" she said," we got a million condoms and divided them. We planned to give out half through the public sector and half through social marketing."

But he says that most of the women looked at the condom--a large slippery device with a ring at the bottom- as something weird.

"The attitude is already very bad," Kibirige says, "Someone looks at your face and says this thing is terrible. And, yet it is a life saving commodity".

However, Kibirige is now optimistic that the panty might work because, he says, the challenge has always been finding a more pleasurable condom.

Uganda has about 30 brands of condoms on the market. A condom market survey done by the Ministry of Health in 2016 shows that while there were 19 brands of condoms on the market in 2011, they had risen to 28 brands by 2016. At the end of 2017, another contraceptive giant DKT International based in the US joined the market with its KISS condom targeting the middle class. In total, the market volume has increased from 89million condoms in 2012 to 179million in 2016.

'Only 19% can use condoms well'

However, Kibirige says that while all these brands are on the market, condom use amongst both men and women appears either stagnant or on the decrease. Between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of males and females using condoms increased slightly. In 2016, 21.5% of males and 21.3% of females reported using a condom the last time they had sex compared to only 19% of males and 12% of females five years prior. Among the unmarried youth while the figures were higher at 41% for the males and 54% for the females in 2016, there was a decrease from 62.7% among males in 2011 and yet the percentage of females remained unchanged even after five years.

Overtime, Kibirige says he has learnt that for a condom, whether male or female, to be used, there needs to be a lot of promotion activities done.

She says condom programming is four times the cost of the product and thus having the product alone doesn't help. This is partly because, she says, they didn't have resources to dispel the myths and teach many people how to use the device that the FC1 failed to survive its fifth birthday in the country. By 2003, when the condoms were to expire, their stores were still full.

"Even in areas that were still demanding the condom," she added, "we later found out they were not using them for their purpose. In Karamoja for instance women wanted the ring to use it as bangles. Almost no one in western region was asking for the condom" she recalls.

Many other complaints came too as she recalls some saying the ring was uncomfortable, others it was noisy during intercourse. Stories that the condoms were sliding away and getting lost in the body also appeared to worsen the situation.

Very soon an improved version FC2 came to the market with a smaller ring making it easy to insert and made of polyurethane, giving it a no-condom feel. But still, Kibirige and her group have failed to get women to embrace the female condom, at least, to the success of the male condom. Of the 240million condoms needed every year, only 2million is the current need for the female condom.

"Women still find it weird," Kibirige says, "They say it's hard to put on."

Muwonge sees no excuse in not using the panty condom. He says they inverted it after studying the flaws in all the old condoms on the market and that with it, one can be able to change positions during sexual intercourse.

But Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG)'s Timothy Damulira is concerned about innovation and sustainability on the market.

He says anything that concerns a change in behavior requires constant innovation and information because people tend to suffer from exhaustion using one product for a long time. For him, the search for a more pleasurable condom continues.

Indeed, UHMG continues to innovate even when they have already built a brand in the contraceptive world. They recently ferried in a new brand of male condoms that is chocolate scented and of a golden color.

Muwonge's condom just like many on the market is planned to be sold both through the public sector, social marketing and commercially for those who can afford to buy out of the pocket. On the market, a packet of condoms costs between Shs2000 and Shs20,000 whereas the subsidized ones sold through social marketing go for as low as Shs500 per packet.

A 2016 condom use study by the Ministry of Health revealed that the value of the total condom market was estimated at $88million, a 95% increase from the market value in 2011. Commercial contributes to only 2% of the condoms used in the country, 19% are sold through social marketing. The majority get their condoms free through public sector at 79%.

In 2016, approximately 336 million condoms were needed to cover all risky sex acts in Uganda, about 212 million more than were needed in 2011. In 2011 alone, the need exceeded condom distribution by 67%. Muwonge hopes the panty condom will spring its own surprises.

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