A message to Universal Condom Work Group Members and Supporters:
Recently I received a troubling email from one of our colleagues at the AIDS Foundation Chicago, Jessica Terlikowski. She expressed that she and her colleagues had a concerning call with Veru Health Care. Veru Health Care is the company that bought Female Health Company; they manufacture FC2, the only FDA approved female condom currently available in the United States. Jessica shared that Veru Healthcare is working toward revoking the commercial availability of FC2. This means no longer being able to buy FC2 through Walgreen’s stores, CVS, or online pharmacy retailers. Additionally the company is looking to move into a prescription based model. A prescription is not currently required for FC2 use but by moving to this new model Veru hopes they can increase the price point to $119.47 for a box of 12 condoms (yes you read that correctly). I have also learned that Veru will no longer rely on distributers like Total Access Group to sell FC2 to Public Health Departments, CBOs and clinics. Veru Healthcare will move to distribute FC2 in-house via sales representatives.
The reasons given for their turn, they claim are due to the lack of profitability in the retail market. The company claims they aren’t making a sizable profit from the commercial sale of FC2 and they need to make changes. However, during the call they stated they remain committed to ensuring FC2 is available to those seeking them.
The Universal Condom Work Group is disheartened by these recent findings. We understand the difference between access and ease of access for our communities. When individuals have the ease of access to effective pregnancy/ STI prevention, they are more likely to engage in using them. The Universal Condom Work Group has seen progress from our labor in the past two years. I have seen FC2 availability increase as more community clinics and health programs obtain FC2 for their clients. Most recently Los Angeles County Department of Public Health moved to include female condoms in the upcoming The Los Angeles County Comprehensive HIV Plan. This non gender specific inclusion of ‘internal condoms’ ensures those engaging in receptive sexual activities have increased prevention options. To date, over 200 healthcare providers, public health investigators, nurses, and health educators in Los Angeles County have attended the trainings the Work Group has hosted. In turn they share the benefits of FC2 with their staff and clients. However there is so much more work to be done.
As most of you know I have been at the forefront of this fight for Los Angeles, beating the drum highlighting a tool that provides dual protection, can enhance sexual pleasure, and empowers receptive partners to take the lead in protecting themselves.
The proposed rollback of availability would be a barrier to those needing FC2 the most. There is additional concern that at the proposed cost, insurers would be less likely to cover FC2, leaving women without premium insurance unable to obtain them if desired. Providers might be less likely to discuss them as an option if they know clients will be unable to actually get their hands on them.
Having the power of choice allows different people the ability to make the best decisions for themselves in any given situation. I believe women and any other person engaging in receptive intercourse should have HIV/STI prevention options available to them that are affordable, easy to access and suitable to their personal needs. I agree with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the National Female Condom Coalition that “these decisions are outrageous and unacceptable as they take a critical prevention option out of the hands of both women living with and vulnerable to HIV.” The advocates of the National Female Condom Coalition are organizing a collective response to these proposed changes. Your voices will be a critical addition as we move forward. I will continue to keep you abreast of developments as they roll out.
Additionally as these changes take shape, I encourage you to procure as many FC2 for your patients and clients before any price changes take effect or we begin to experience difficulty in getting them from our distributors. Contact me for assistance in finding FC2.
Chair, Universal Condom Work Group L.A.
Program Coordinator, Healthy Alternatives for Reducing the Risk for HIV Project- JWCH Institute Inc