National

D.C. to distribute free female condoms

WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia will become the first city in the United States to distribute female condoms free, part of a project that will make 500,000 of them available in beauty salons, convenience stores and high schools in parts of the city with high HIV rates.

City officials said the distribution could begin within the next three weeks in city wards where a study showed that large numbers of black heterosexuals engage in risky sexual behavior that could easily lead to infection.

The move is an official acknowledgment of the futility of relying solely on the use of male condoms, which have been distributed citywide for nearly a decade, to stem the district's epidemic of HIV and AIDS. Officials said they are turning to female condoms to give women more power to protect themselves from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases when their partners refuse to use protection.

HIV/AIDS infection is the leading cause of death for black women 25-34 nationwide. A 2008 report showed the D.C. HIV/AIDS rate at 3 percent, or about 15,100 adults, a major epidemic.

"Anywhere male condoms are available, female condoms will be available," said Shannon Hader, director of the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration.

The female condom has been available in Europe for nearly two decades and was first approved for use by the FDA in 1993. Its use in the United States was limited and ineffective. Women complained that the first version, FC1, was too expensive and unsatisfactory. Last year the Federal Drug Administration approved a second version, FC2.

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