India:  Empowering vulnerable women to take care of their right to health

Over the last few years, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been supporting comprehensive HIV prevention services for female injecting drug users and female partners of male drug users in the North East of India, in the context of a joint UN programme. The majority of this target group are women between the reproductive age of 18 to 35 years and many are mothers.

Evidence suggests that women who inject drugs and female partners of male drug users are at higher risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections when compared to other groups of women.   Given the low rates of male condom use among the drug using population, and gender-based power imbalances, the female condom is a good alternative for women, as it can be controlled by the women themselves.  It is a special plastic sleeve-like device worn internally by the woman, which can prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

In recognition of this and in light of a growing need for the use of female condoms, UNODC, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Population Services International, India (PSI) organized a training on female condoms in Aizawl, Mizoram, India. The training targeted project staff, who work at intervention sites for female injecting drug users in North East India, as well as Representatives from the North East Regional Office of National AIDS Control Organization, Mizoram State AIDS Control Society and the State Training Resource Centre. Representatives from PSI facilitated the sessions at this two-day training held on October 3 and 4.

The training covered a variety of sessions, including the female reproductive system, the manufacturing process of the female condom and demonstrations of its correct usage. It also covered the very critical issue of how to negotiate safe sex, including tips for effective communication.

For the first time ever in India, such a training was held bringing together relevant stakeholders to promote the use of female condoms amongst women who inject drugs and female sex partners of male drug users.  As part of this pilot initiative, UNODC will continue to promote the condom at its project sites and make it available at the nominal cost of Rs.2.50 (approx. USD 0.05)  as opposed to the market value of Rs. 45 (approx. USD 1), following the principles of social marketing. Such an approach has proven to be effective when promoting condoms amongst those vulnerable to HIV.

A second meeting is planned for December 2012, where stakeholders will gather to discuss the impact, reactions and the way forward for this promising initiative.

American Journal of Public Health, May 1995, Vol. 85, No. 5


UNODC would like to acknowledge the United Nations Population Fund for funding the training with technical assistance from Population Services International, India.

The joint UN Programme in North East India is funded by AusAID.