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Where animators energise female condoms distribution

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Messages on the use of abstinence as one way of keeping oneself away from various sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and Aids have been part of this world for ages.

Health education experts have unrelentingly talked about abstinence and people have heard about such messages through various channels over and over again.

But, somehow, it has been observed that it is an uphill task to convince people to just stop having sex.

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The continued emphasising on abstinence for people who have failed to adhere to such an advice after a lengthy period of communication leaves them nowhere but in the hands of unsafe sexual behaviours, which if left unrestrained is more dangerous to any society.

Some health and communication experts have, therefore, suggested that it is imperative that the country also spare some energy to focus on providing avenues for people, who cannot manage, to have sex but in a safer way. And one of the means through which sexually energetic people may practice safe sex is the use of female condoms.

Admittedly, the use of female condoms is a relatively new phenomenon in the country and the number of women and men, who have appreciated that female condoms have an overwhelming and crucial supremacy in the process of making sexual decisions for both married and unmarried partners, may not be as big if compared to the common male condoms.

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But Lucia Milanzi of Mbwani Village in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Kuntumanji in Zomba is among some few but progressively and increasing updated women who did not hesitately to embrace and use the female condoms.

Immediately after receiving messages about importance of female condoms, Milanzi did not falter. She started using them immediately.

However, the distance to what Milanzi said is the ‘nearest’ health facility-which is more than eight kilometres away from Mbwani-remained one of the persistent stumbling block for her to fully utilise female condoms- her newly adopted contraceptive method and shield against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/Aids.

In the past Milanzi, often times than not, could let two weeks or a month pass without keeping the condoms in her house-ready for any attack. Disturbingly, two weeks or a month may be too long a time for somebody who is sexually vigorous to live without her trusted defence weaponry, isn’t it?

The distance to either Domasi Health Centre or Bimbi Health Centre, the two health facilities that are on either side of Mbwani Village and serve Zomba Nsondole constituents, was a very big challenge for women who chose to adopt and actively use female condoms.

Currently, for one to hire a bicycle tax (kabaza) to Domasi Health Centre, she or he requires more than K600 (about $1) to and from, which many people including Milanzi could not afford.

“We used to walk to Domasi Health Centre to access female condoms for our protection. But there were times we could take up to a month before going to the healthy facility for the next stock. The long distance to that side was just discouraging as we also do have some other household activities to attend to,” Milanzi said.

Fair enough, a significant number of women in the area of T/A Kuntumanji enthusiastically adopted female condoms.

But the distance to health facility, exposed the inconsistencies that characterised the uptake of female condoms among these enthusiasts and some women who had plans to start using female condoms and the situation, without doubt, required some way out.

It is for this reason plus other convenient reasons that in 2003, The Hunger Project Malawi, which has been promoting free-public sector use of Female Health Company’s manufactured and well-lubricated FC2 female condoms in the country, adopted Animators Model.

In the Animators model, the Animators (who are volunteers from within the community) go to the public health facilities to collect female condoms for distribution to their peers in their respective communities.

At Nsondole Hunger Project Malawi Epicentre alone, the model has seen 87 animators being trained in female condoms use and distribution and are currently working on promoting and distributing FC2 female condoms to residents of 29 villages in Nsondole constituency.

According to Fedex Lucius, who is the chairperson for Nsondole Hunger Project Malawi Epicentre animators, since the adoption of the system about 12 years ago, the number of women using FC2 female condoms in the area has significantly improved.

“Women are realising that it is safer for them to use female condoms than male condoms. With female condoms women are usually in control. They understand that men can easily tamper with male condoms because they are the ones who put it on. But when the animators went around the villages, teaching people about and distributing female condoms, women realised that it is much better to use female condoms,” Lucius said.

He also said when the two public health facilities run out of female condoms, the Nsondole epicenter becomes handy.

“Before animators came in, people were not even aware that female condoms exist. The animators worked hard to deliver messages about female condoms and now we are happy that things have improved,” he said.

But the project emphasises on the use of not only animators but well trained animators.

“We cannot just give such a huge responsibility to people who have little knowledge of what female condoms are all about. We conduct regular training for the animators to ensure that they have up-to-date knowledge of these condoms,” Centre projects officer for Nsondole epicenter, Glory Mkandawire said.

Mkandawire said each of the 29 villages has three animators, who include youthful animators to ensure that young people in those areas are also reached using their own peers.

Female Condom Advocate and Project Manager at the Hunger Project Malawi, Hester Nyasulu, said the Animators Model, which is being used in six districts where the organisation is working, enables the organisation distributes about 100,000 FC2 condoms annually.

According to Nyasulu, in 2015 the organisation brought together all districts condom coordinators and representatives from female condom service providers to discuss how the animators’ model can be replicated across the country.

“With this model, people in the communities that fail to go to healthy facility because of the distance or afraid of limited privacy will be able to access them from peers within their communities,” Nyasulu said.

He said with FC2 female condoms, there is no need for a woman to put on condom some hours before sex and the noise which people were raising about FC1 condoms is not there as they are well lubricated for extra pleasure.

National Condom Coordinator in the Ministry of Health, Stanley Ngoma, said Malawi is now distributing around 1 million FC2 female condoms annually through the public facilities and envisages that the uptake could be increased with effective coordination between the facilities and female condom service providers.

Ngoma said the ministry will strive to build the relationship and called on partners to invest more in female condom education and strengthening the community based distribution systems.

National Aids Commission report shows that over 32,000 people are acquiring HIV annually and the Ministry of Education laments increased dropouts due to pregnancies, all of which could be reduced if FC2 female condoms are adopted, easily distributed and effectively used. Animators model of distribution, may be, that magical answer.

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