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Research on female condom use among university students in Durban

Monday, April 13, 2015

UKZN Masters graduate Ms Nomsa Mahlalela of the College of Humanities explored the use of female condoms among university students in Durban for her degree.

College of Humanities Graduate, Ms Nomsa Mahlalela.
College of Humanities Graduate, Ms Nomsa Mahlalela.

UKZN Masters graduate Ms Nomsa Mahlalela of the College of Humanities explored the use of female condoms among university students in Durban for her degree.

The research, which earned her a Masters in Population Studies qualification, was published in the European Journal for Contraception and Reproductive Health Care.

‘It has always been in my long term plans to have a Masters degree,’ said Mahlalela. ‘I believe that by holding such a degree you are building a strong foundation, especially in a competitive working environment. I also have a long-held interest in women’s health issues and reproductive health.

‘Exploring female condom use for me is very important and highly relevant, especially in the South African context where so many women are living with HIV. The female condom is the only available tool to protect women against the dual risks of STIs and pregnancy. It is available in South Africa, yet underutilised.’

She believes that better understanding is needed on this issue. ‘The female condom is one of government’s strategies to fight the HIV pandemic. Understanding promoters and barriers regarding its use is important for the government to create interventions that will facilitate the consistent use of the condom in order to address the high levels of HIV/AIDS, especially among women in the country.’

The results of the study highlighted several factors that facilitate and inhibit female condom use.

 Protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy prevention were among the main reasons for the use of the device by female students.

‘Students expressed positive attitudes towards the female condom and prefer it over hormonal contraceptives because it offers them dual protection. Absence of side effects and greater power and autonomy to initiate safer sex are other factors that facilitate its use. Inadequate availability, partner objection, stigma, insertion difficulties, and lack of awareness were significant barriers to consistent female condom use,’ said Mahlalela. 

However, there was an urgent need for the government to make the condoms widely accessible to the entire population. ‘Providing adequate information and increasing male involvement are essential for women’s empowerment.’

During the course of her studies, she became a PEPFAR Research Fellow with the Foundation for Professional Development in Pretoria and now works as a junior researcher for the Gender-Based Violence project, Making All Voices Count.

‘We want to develop and test an app on a mobile phone accessible platform that will enhance the case management process of rape survivors at Thuthuzela Care Centres.  It is envisaged this will improve their journey through the justice system and establish a platform to hear the voices of these same rape survivors in terms of client-experience of services received,’ said Mahlalela.

‘This will hold the gender-based violence support service providers to account, including the South African Police Services the National Prosecuting Authority the Department of Health, NGOs and CBOs.’

Mahlalela, who advised other MA/PhD researchers to persevere in their work, thanked her family, friends and lecturers for their support.

‘UKZN is the best place to be!’

Words by Melissa Mungroo

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