Women in India now have more birth control options, which are affordable and can guarantee protection against unwanted pregnancies and diseases. Speaking at the National Family Planning Summit on April 6, health minister J P Nadda introduced Velvet, a female condom manufactured in India at an affordable cost.
Velvet is made of natural rubber latex, developed by HLL Lifecare Ltd, which has pioneered the production of female condoms since 2006. It was recently approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be used for institutional procurement under donor-funded programmes.
According to HLL, the condoms have a shelf life of up to five years, and is one of the most affordable ones in the world.
The condoms come at a low cost because it is made of rubber, a locally available raw material. Usually, women in developing countries can’t afford female condoms, because of the high cost of production using non-latex materials.
DNA quotes Nadda as saying that the new condom enables women to have control over their reproductive freedom, and guaranteed protection. “It is all about empowering women. It is the only woman-initiated method of contraception that serves a dual protection: prevention of pregnancy and of HIV/AIDS,” Nadda said about Velvet.
It also protects them from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Nadda added, “It will also go a long way in meeting the unmet contraceptive needs and thus check the burgeoning population of the country.”
Nadda announced that the government added new kinds of contraceptives under the National Family Planning Programme (NFPP). Along with female condoms, the government will be bringing in Progestin-only Pills (POPs), and Centchroman (a non-steroidal oral contraceptive) into the public health sector.
What’s more, being included in the National Family Planning Programme, these contraceptive options will be given free of cost to women at district hospitals and primary and community health centres across the country.
In India, so far the long term contraceptive option for women, especially in rural areas, was sterilisation. But if not done correctly, it leads to fatalities, as observed in the tragedy in 2014, where 13 women at a Chhattisgarh hospital died after a hasty tubal ligation operation.
Intrauterine Devices (IUD) are sometimes used by Indian women, while the most common contraceptive is in the form of pills. According to a 2009 study by WHO, about 76% women had no access to adequate contraceptives. Out of the married population, 48% used contraceptives. Out of these, about three-fourths went for sterilisations, while condoms were used by just 3% women.
According to a global study, if women space their pregnancies apart by two years, the incidence of maternal deaths go down by 30%, while child deaths reduce by 10%. The government’s inclusion of new contraceptive methods highlights that it is ready to increase awareness about safer options for women, as compared to sterilisation. Providing these free of cost ensures a wider reach, from rural to urban areas.