Public Health

Study Finds Female Condoms Are Cost-Effective For HIV Prevention

A bus in Washington, D.C., displays an advertisement for a female condom in July 2010. To encourage their use, community groups distributed more than 500,000 of the female condoms, flexible pouches that are wider than a male condom but similar in length, during instruction sessions at beauty salons, barber shops, churches and restaurants. i i

hide captionA bus in Washington, D.C., displays an advertisement for a female condom in July 2010. To encourage their use, community groups distributed more than 500,000 of the female condoms, flexible pouches that are wider than a male condom but similar in length, during instruction sessions at beauty salons, barber shops, churches and restaurants.

Drew Angerer/AP
A bus in Washington, D.C., displays an advertisement for a female condom in July 2010. To encourage their use, community groups distributed more than 500,000 of the female condoms, flexible pouches that are wider than a male condom but similar in length, during instruction sessions at beauty salons, barber shops, churches and restaurants.

A bus in Washington, D.C., displays an advertisement for a female condom in July 2010. To encourage their use, community groups distributed more than 500,000 of the female condoms, flexible pouches that are wider than a male condom but similar in length, during instruction sessions at beauty salons, barber shops, churches and restaurants.

Drew Angerer/AP

Condoms aren't just for men.

A second generation of female condoms, which was approved in 2009, is cheaper than the first version. Still, the condoms for women are a lot more expensive than those for males. And female condoms remain pretty unfamiliar to most people.

But a new study finds there's no question female condoms are a good bargain when it comes to preventing HIV infections.

Study authors looked at an initiative in Washington, D.C., that distributed 200,000 female condoms to women in neighborhoods with high rates of HIV. The project also educated women (and some couples) on how to use the female condom.

Washington has by far the nation's highest HIV prevalence — 1 in every 33 residents overall. But among those in their 40s, the rate is 1 in 14 residents. That's higher than in many of the most HIV-afflicted countries in Africa.

The project was able to buy female condoms at a cut rate — $1.55 apiece, compared to $2 or more on the retail market. But adding the cost of education sessions, the program spent $3.19 for every female condom that was actually used during sex.

Even so, when the researchers compared the cost of the condom program with the cost of HIV infections it prevented, they find female condoms saved between $15 and $20 for every dollar spent.

Allowing for the fact that some female condoms merely substituted for the use of male condoms (which cost only about 65 cents in a 12-pack), the study finds female condoms are still highly cost-effective — $12.50 to $17 for every dollar spent.

That makes female condoms "a highly productive use of public health investment," conclude David Holtgrave and his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Washington's health department.

At least that's the case in areas with high rates of HIV.

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