By Robin Strongin
Creator, Chief Blogger
Disruptive Women in Health Care
Washington, DC, leads the nation with the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the country—3 percent of all adults and adolescents in DC live with HIV/AIDS (any percentage over 1 percent is considered a severe epidemic by the World Health Organization).
Officials have created an innovative partnership with a number of organizations and celebrities to distribute female condoms in HIV hotspots (if you want to try them yourself, they’re now on sale at CVS in many cities, including DC).
Given this month’s focus on soul, and the Truly Amazing Women feature on Sabine Durier, who ran the AIDS program for the International Finance Corporation, I wanted to turn readers attention to this important topic.
A Q&A with Mary Ann Leeper, senior strategic advisor for the Female Health Company
Disruptive Women: Tell us about the Female Health Company’s initiative to distribute female condoms in Washington, DC.
Mary Ann Leeper: The initiative is the coming together of five different
groups: The MAC Foundation, the CDC, the Department of Health, the Female Health Company, and CVS. Our goal is simply to bring the female condom to women in the DC area, which currently has the highest rate of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the country. The Department of Health has initiated a strong prevention outreach program. They’re also tying some of the key, community-based organizations into the programs.
Disruptive Women: Is it true that the FDA approved the female condom almost 20 years ago?
Mary Ann Leeper: That’s right. The FDA approved the first female condom in 1993. This version was approved about a year ago, and our goal is to educate women about its effectiveness and distribute it in cities that have the highest rates of STDs and HIV.
Disruptive Women: What is different about this new condom?
Mary Ann Leeper: We switched from a polyurethane material to a synthetic latex material, called Nitrile. The shift enabled us to move from a welding process, which is very intensive and expensive, to a dipping process that is similar to the way male condoms are made. This reduces the cost to manufacture them, and we pass those dramatic savings on to the women and NGOs so they can better afford to buy them.
Disruptive Women: They’re crazy expensive, right?
Mary Ann Leeper: They were. But this new version of the product is at least 30 percent less. Plus, the more an organization orders, the lower the cost per unit. You can buy a box on Amazon.com for about $20. Our goal is to make them available on pharmacy websites in the coming months.
Disruptive Women: Women can buy them over the counter now, is that right?
Mary Ann Leeper: Yes. They are available in CVS stores in cities around the country.
Disruptive Women: Let’s get technical for a minute. Men say they have issues with wearing condoms because it takes away the spontaneity of the moment. Will women have the same complaint?
Mary Ann Leeper: That’s a great question. In Chicago, where the product was introduced this spring, a group hosted a race to see how fast women could insert the female condom versus the male condom. The female condom won. Granted, our research shows that it takes two to three tries to be comfortable with the process. But it’s very similar to inserting a tampon, and takes about as long.
Disruptive Women: Can it be worn all day?
Mary Ann Leeper: Yes, but realistically most women won’t do that. The directions indicate that it should be inserted about 20 minutes before becoming intimate.
Disruptive Women: Tell us a little about its success rate in terms of preventing pregnancy, as compared to birth-control pills.
Mary Ann Leeper: The female condom is comparable to male condoms, which have between 93 percent to 95 percent pregnancy-prevention rate. That’s lower than oral contraceptives, injectables, or the IUD, which are 99 percent effective.
Disruptive Women: By reducing the cost, and making them effective in preventing disease transmission and pregnancy, you seem to be increasing the probability that you’ll help more women who need and want this kind of product.
Mary Ann Leeper: That is definitely our goal. Women are the fastest growing group of persons contracting HIV and STD in the United States. This effort is being supported by a lot of powerful organizations that are trying to protect women from disease. Everybody is working together to make it happen, and we thank Disruptive Women in Health Care, and Be Inkandescent Magazine, for helping us spread the word.
About Mary Ann Leeper
Leeper is senior strategic advisor for the Female Health Company (AMEX: FHC), after being its president and COO for more than 10 years. She is a member of the FHC board and is chair and board member of the Female Health Foundation, which she founded in 1994. She is co-founder of the Business Woman’s Initiative against HIV/AIDS. Leeper serves on the Board of Neenah Paper, Inc. (NYSE: NP), a manufacturer and distributor of paper products, and is chair of its nominating and governance committee.
She received the prestigious “Woman Entrepreneurship” award from Temple University’s School of Business in November 2003 and a recognition award in 2005 by certain United Nations and global health agencies for her pioneering efforts in the work of women’s health, particularly relating to female protection and reproductive health. Leeper gives lectures and presentations at various colleges and universities across the country and has also contributed to publications regarding global entrepreneurship, gender bias, corporate social responsibility, women’s issues in the developing world, and prevention programs against HIV/AIDS.
For more information visit, www.femalehealth.com.
About Robin Strongin and her blog, Disruptive Women in Health Care
Robin Strongin is an accomplished public affairs expert, with more than 25 years of experience working in Washington, DC. Her areas of specialization include health care, science, technology, and innovation. Robin has worked with and for federal and state governments, regulatory agencies, Congress, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, corporations, coalitions, and trade associations.
She founded Disruptive Women in Health Care in 2008 to serve as a platform for provocative ideas, thoughts, and solutions in the health sphere. “We recognize that to accomplish this, we need to call on experts outside of the health industry,” she asserts.
She is also the president of Amplify Public Affairs, the next generation in public affairs, leading the way in the integration of new media and traditional communications strategies.