Tag Archives: women

Female Condoms: Difficult to find in the US, easy to get in UK.

Female condoms are an alternative to regular condoms. They provide pretty much the same great protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). What’s different about them? Instead of going on the penis, female condoms go inside your vagina for pregnancy prevention or into the vagina or anus for protection from STDs.

There are hundreds of different kinds of male condoms for sale in the US, but only one female condom and you need a prescription to get it. Female condoms are almost as effective as male condoms, so why are they so hard to find in the US?

At LASS, we’ve been providing female condoms for over 10 years, and when we mention them at our training events or offer them to individuals who test for HIV at LASS, they are often surprised at their existence.

The situation isn’t as bad in the UK compared to America as the above video from Vox describes but publication and awareness of female condoms isn’t as readily available as their male counterparts, (even in the UK) and we want to change that!

Female condoms have been around since the 1980’s, when a Danish doctor named Lasse Hessel came up with a prototype. However, the media ridiculed it, comparing it to a plastic bag.

Female condoms have never been marketed very well and stigma over a sexual health aid still hangs around to the point that in the US last year, the company that manufactures them stopped selling them in stores and changed to a prescription-only model, so indivuals in the states need to see a doctor, just to get a condom.

That’s backwards thinking and we say they are just as valid as male condoms to help prevent STIs (including HIV) Another excellent reason for using female condoms is they’re the only women -initiated method of planning and actively pursuing safer sex. Many say they’re preferable for anal sex too!

How do female condoms work?

Female condoms (also called internal condoms) are little nitrile (soft plastic) pouches that you put inside your vagina. They cover the inside of your vagina, creating a barrier that stops sperm from reaching an egg. If sperm can’t get to an egg, you can’t get pregnant. The female condom also helps prevent sexually transmitted infections.  Female condoms aren’t just birth control — they also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Female condoms help prevent STIs by covering the inside of your anus, vagina, and some parts of your vulva. This decreases your chance of coming in contact with semen or skin that can spread STIs.

Unlike in the United States as the above video shows, female condoms are becoming easier to find online, in stores, and at family planning centers. And you don’t need a prescription or ID to buy them. They’re a small, discreet, and portable way to get big protection from pregnancy and STDs.

We provide them freely at LASS, since all the other condoms out there are worn on a penis, many female condom fans love that there’s a condom they can control. Female condoms let you take charge of your sexual health. Even if your partner doesn’t want to wear a condom, you can still protect yourself.

You can also buy them online, here’s a couple of links from Amazon (Pasante) (Velvet)

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No. PrEP isn’t just for gay men.


“PrEP for a lot of women, will be their entry point for access to care,” noted Martha Cameron, Director of Prevention at The Women’s Collective. “They are hearing about it for the first time and you see the surprise,” she added. “The first part of the session is trying to convince people that it’s real, it’s out there, that it’s for women and not just for MSM, and it works.”

The Women’s Collective is a non-profit organization in Washington D.C. that serves women of color who are HIV positive or at risk for HIV. They’re working with the D.C. Department of Health on PrEP for Her, a new campaign that aims to increase knowledge about PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, among African-American Women. PrEP can be more than 90 percent effective in preventing HIV when taken daily.

Not everyone who is eligible for PrEP is aware of it, however, and that’s where the health department along with their community partners hope to make a dent. CDCestimates that there are 1.2 million people in the nation who are eligible for PrEP: 38 percent are women. “This group hasn’t really been targeted in any other initiative,” noted Ashlee Wimberly, PrEP for Women Project Coordinator at theWashington AIDS Partnership, a similar initiative to bring PrEP awareness to women. “There’s a very big gap.”

Ms. Wimberly is referring specifically to women of color. “The most important thing that needs to be mentioned is that there has hardly been any campaign, social media strategies, even images out there that have targeted women in general and especially women of color with regard to PrEP,” added Ms. Cameron.

17.2 percent of HIV diagnoses in 2014 in DC were among women; of all the women diagnosed, 91.2 percent were Black. Data from Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that makes Truvada® (the medication used for PrEP), showed an almost four fold increase in PrEP uptake between 2014 and 2015 among men, while the numbers of women taking PrEP remained stagnant.

PrEP for Her wants to change that. “It’s exciting to see it come together,” said Dr. Travis Gayles, Chief Medical Office at the D.C. Health Department. “I think for so long, especially around HIV, a lot of our resources haven’t been targeted towards women.” Dr. Gayles noted that while there are high numbers of men who have sex with men (MSM) impacted by HIV, and thus much of HIV prevention efforts focus on that population, it’s exciting to have an effort that includes women as well.

However, prescribing PrEP isn’t enough. “I’m a big believer that the easy part of PrEP is to write a prescription,” Dr. Gayles said. Ms. Cameron agrees. “The drug is not the issue,” she said. “The issue is you have to have follow-up medical care, and labs, and so on.” Ms. Cameron noted that many of the women she works with face barriers to sustained care, from financial instability, to housing security, being in violent relationships, and having mental health or substance use concerns. All those aspects must be addressed in order to reap the benefits from PrEP. Dr. Gayles concurs. “There are a lot of factors that go into adherence beyond just the patient’s desire to take the medication,” he said.

Ms. Wimberly added that the PrEp for Women Initiative aims to reach 5,000 women and 300 doctors in D.C. to increase knowledge and PrEP awareness through social media and traditional marketing over the next two years. The conversation is about empowering women and PrEP helps HIV negative women do that by putting prevention in their hands, in the form of a pill. Everyone agrees that messages about PrEP must be relevant for women and their sexual circumstances. “I think we definitely have to make sure that the information is accessible and we relay it in a way that connects with our intended audience,” Ms. Wimberly said. “If we’re going to be effective, that’s a key piece to it.”

The D.C. Health Department launched the PrEP for Her initiative this year with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the MAC AIDS Foundation. In July 2016, their STD clinic began offering PrEP to patients for the first time. The Washington AIDS Partnership launched the D.C. PrEP for Women initiative in July 2016. This fall, the Partnership will release a request for applications to support innovative projects aimed at increasing PrEP knowledge and utilization in Washington, D.C. Additionally, the D.C. Health Department provides funding to The Women’s Collective for some of their HIV prevention efforts.

Want to know more about PrEP.  This video demystifies the treatment.

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Women living with HIV: a matter of safety and respect


Last month the results of a global survey on women living with HIV were published. The survey was designed and conducted by women, and commissioned by the World Health Organisation. Will the findings be acted upon?

In 2014 the World Health Organisation commissioned the largest international survey to date on the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of women living with HIV. The survey was designed, led and conducted by women living with HIV.  Last month the global survey was published: Building A Safe House On Firm Ground.

I live in Canada in a small rural setting, and I have been living with HIV for many years. The survey calls for “safety, support and respect for all women at all times”.  It is my hope that readers examine the survey in its entirety.

A total of 832 women from 94 countries, aged 15-72, with another 113 women in focus groups from 7 countries took part in the survey. Violeta Ross (Bolivia) expressed how “This consultation means for me, the opportunity to learn from one and other. Women living with HIV are the best positioned for the design of sexual and reproductive health policies“.

The single most prominent finding of the survey was how women living with HIV experience high rates of violence, on a continuum throughout the life cycle: 89% of the respondents reported experiencing or fearing gender-based violence, before, during and/or after HIV diagnosis.

Violence was described as physical, psychological and/or financial, with an HIV diagnosis or disclosure acting as a trigger for violence at times. Over 80% of respondents reported experiences of depression, shame and feelings of rejection. Over 75% reported insomnia and difficulty sleeping, self-blame, very low self-esteem, loneliness, body image issues, or anxiety, fear and panic attacks, whether before, or as a direct result of, or after diagnosis.

Poverty ties in with violence, along with gender inequality. Many women with HIV come from diverse backgrounds, such as drug use, sex work, being lesbian or transgender. Women are often in relationships where they do not have the financial means to leave and are reliant on their partners, placing them in an unequal power dynamic and open to further abuse and blackmail.

The survey reveals the way in which the lack of human rights-based approaches to women’s services contributes to mental health issues, lack of satisfying sex lives, and lack of sexual and reproductive rights. All women with HIV have the right to achieving their sexual and reproductive rights as a fundamental part of being human. The survey also highlights the importance of women needing to achieve their own rights in all these areas in order for them adequately to support their children and partners – which women with HIV are very much wanting to do.

The report strongly recommends the meaningful involvement of women living with HIV as active participants in all plans and research which affects them.

As Sophie Strachan of the UNAIDS Dialogue Platform and the Global Coalition of Women and AIDS explained, “The main importance of this consultation is that WHO hear and take up our recommendations, listen to our voices (as experts) to hear the needs of women living with HIV and include peer led support/services in their guidelines. We need gender specific policies to ensure the rights of women in all our diversities are met.”

Gender-based violence against women living with HIV is a world-wide phenomenon. In a Canadian context it takes place on a continuum from polite rejections, discrimination and regular experiences of being stigmatized, to more overt forms of violence including physical assault, threats of violence during disclosure of their HIV status or with partners who use the secret of “shame” of their HIV status to control women and keep them from leaving a relationship.

Women living with HIV in Canada often have children and cannot find adequate child care. So they cannot spend time furthering their education and are therefore trapped in a poverty cycle which is often impossible to break. This further exacerbates the potential for abuse and violence.

Indigenous women in Canada represent a small percentage of the overall population, but are over-represented in the number of women living with HIV in Canada, as are women of colour who have emigrated from other regions of theworld. Women living with HIV in Canada often live in isolation, keeping their HIV status private for fear of backlash from the community and to protect their children from stigma and discrimination.  Living in isolation leads to decisions to not seek treatment, not seek care and support to deal with stress and anxiety, and not take prescribed medication on a regular basis, if at all.

It may come as a surprise to learn that Canada has one of the highest rates of criminalization of HIV for non-disclosure in the world. This needs to be addressed to alleviate fear and silence about HIV. Canada demands that other countries adhere to basic human rights practices, yet at home we do not. Fortunately we have a strong organization, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which lobbies for de-criminalization of HIV and changes in our government’s position on this topic. Criminalization of HIV in fact serves to increase HIV transmission. With the onus on the HIV positive person to disclose their status to sex partners or risk prosecution, individuals assume and expect that everyone living with HIV will disclose, and they rely on this and do not ask questions, do not insist on the use of condoms or any safe sex practices. This causes a false sense of security for people on the dating scene, and indirectly creates a situation where people living with HIV are used as part of screening mechanisms for safe sex practices, with the rationale that a person can rely on prosecution if and when a person does not disclose their status. It places the burden of disclosure on the person living with HIV, and does not emphasize the need for each individual to take responsibility for their own sexual health and well being. Laws will not protect people from contracting HIV, personal responsibity for oneself will.

Two recent court rulings in 2013 and 2014 against women in Canada for non-disclosure of their HIV status highlight how the law lags far behind science in relation to the virtual impossibility of transmitting HIV if one has an undetectable viral load. There is a critical need to decriminalize HIV; there is also a need for everyone to take responsibility for their own sexual health.

Services to support women living with HIV in Canada exist in a splintered fashion and vary from province to province.  In Quebec I have had many conversations with women living with HIV, but there seems to be no clear or definitive answers about why women are so reluctant to engage in services. Service providers do not have the solutions around engaging women in services either. From my own point of view I would like to see more concrete and  practical services which will enable us to learn new job skills to integrate back into the work place.

A human rights focus is needed as much in Canada as it is in the so-called “developing” world. The many components on the continuum of violence towards women living with HIV need to be addressed, including financial inequality, need for adequate housing, job security and human rights-based approaches to employment and care.

There is an obvious need for a national cohesive voice for women living with HIV in Canada. What needs to take place here in Canada, as everywhere, is a serious attempt to practice the meaningful involvement of women living with HIV in the full cycle of all aspects of planning, programme implementation and evaluation. We are the experts, and we alone can identify what our needs are and how they can be addressed. This was clearly demonstrated in the Salamander Trust survey, which has produced the most meaningful and authentic results I have read to date.

World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines now need to be updated to reflect both the findings of the report, and to reflect recent political and biomedical aspects of the HIV response.

via OpenDemocracy

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Leicester West MP Liz Kendall HIV patients not helped by NHS shake-up


MP Liz Kendall with LASS CEO Jenny Hand at the Women’s Health Conference. Photo by Tom Robson

It has been three decades since we first became aware of HIV in Britain. During those dark early years, having HIV was like being given a death sentence.

Fear, stigma, discrimination and ignorance left people suffering in silence and perpetuated the spread of this terrible disease.

We’ve made huge strides forward since the 1980s and organisations such as Leicestershire Aids Support Service (Lass) have led the way.

People with HIV can now expect to live longer, healthier and happier lives. But there is still much more that needs to be done.

Last week, I opened Lass’s conference at De Montfort University, which brought together more than 100 delegates from across the country to discuss the challenges ahead.

First, we must continue to raise public awareness about HIV/Aids because, despite all the progress, it hasn’t gone away.

There are 100,000 people in Britain living with HIV and nearly a quarter of them do not know they have contracted the virus.

The diagnosis rate in Leicester is just over three people for every 1,000 of our population, which is more than twice the national average.

Second, we must redouble our efforts to prevent people getting the disease, including by promoting safe sex, and to encourage more people to get tested.

This means confronting head-on the idea that “it can’t happen to me” and tackling some of the difficult issues around religious belief and stigma. Third, people with HIV need the very best standards of care.

This includes not only clinical treatment but help and advice with housing, employment and personal finances, and emotional support, too.

Unfortunately, these challenges are now harder to address because of the Government’s NHS reorganisation.

Contraception services, testing, treatment and public awareness campaigns have been fragmented.  Responsibilities are now split between national bodies including NHS England and Public Health England and local organisations such as GP clinical commissioning groups and councils.

This does not make sense for patients or get the best value for taxpayers’ money.

The resulting confusion and uncertainty come at the same time as funding for local NHS, council care services and voluntary organisations such as Lass is being cut.

Lass is trying to support people with HIV to better cope with these combined pressures.

Its pioneering women’s programme is helping improve patients’ understanding of their condition and become more involved with their care.

It brings women with HIV together to share their experiences, learn skills, gain qualifications, find work and improve their overall quality of life.

Families and friends are supported, too.

So far, 154 women have benefited. Their relationships with NHS staff have improved, resulting in a better experience of care.

Eight women are now in employment and an additional 13 have enrolled in college courses.

I’m determined to champion the excellent work of organisations such as Lass as a local MP and a member of Labour’s shadow health team.

It’s only by working together that we will address the big health challenges we face, including HIV and Aids.

The LASS Women’s Programme


The LASS Women’s programme is a sustainable project run by women for women, helping them to:

  • Understand more about HIV
  • Become more involved with (and knowledgeable about) their health care
  • Reduce feelings of alienation and isolation
  • Receive and give peer support
  • Learn new skills and gain qualifications
  • Return to (or enter into) the workplace
  • Gain an improved quality of life.

For your copy of the report, please click here

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The LASS Women’s Programme


The LASS Women’s programme is a sustainable project run by women for women, helping them to:

  • Understand more about HIV
  • Become more involved with (and knowledgeable about) their health care
  • Reduce feelings of alienation and isolation
  • Receive and give peer support
  • Learn new skills and gain qualifications
  • Return to (or enter into) the workplace
  • Gain an improved quality of life.

Rationale behind the programme

The pressures facing LASS and many other HIV support organisations, were compounded by those facing its service members, many of whom found themselves living in increasingly precarious and difficult circumstances.

LASS were aware of the changing health and social care environment, along with the changing education and employment environment. In addition, budgets have been cut from many of these services, including those provided by LASS. These cuts were even greater than expected, consequently having a far wider and greater impact than initially anticipated. Therefore, LASS took steps to initially concentrate on helping women living with HIV to adapt to the changing environment. Further projects are planned for other groups who are equally affected by these changes.

Leicester has the 6th highest prevalence of HIV outside London in England among people aged between 15 and 59 years. In the UK, people living with HIV are disproportionately represented in the communities of Black African people and gay men

In just one year, 154 women have benefited from this programme, 8 are now in employment, an additional 13 enrolled in college courses and 4 are now delivering sessions to other women enrolling in the programme.

Links with local health care professionals have also been enhanced, so far resulting in a new and improved HIV psychological care pathway.

Please click here for a full copy of the report.

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International Womens Day!

The 8th March is a day when women throughout the world come together and celebrate life as women, the progress made to advance equality for women and to assess the challenges that remain.

UN Women, in collaboration with UNAIDS, have created a comprehensive online resource to provide up-to-date information on the gender equality dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The site aims to promote understanding, knowledge sharing, and action on HIV/AIDS as a gender and human rights issue.

While HIV/AIDS is a health issue, the epidemic is a gender issue. Statistics prove that both the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS are not random. HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women and adolescent girls who are socially, culturally, biologically, and economically more vulnerable.

The figures are alarming: At the end of 2009, slightly more than half of the estimated 33.3  million adults (aged 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS were women and girls. In Sub-Saharan Africa, more women than men are living with HIV, and young women aged 15-24 years are as much as eight times more likely than men to be HIV-positive.

In the Caribbean, approximately 53 per cent of people living with HIV are women. Globally, the incidence of HIV/AIDS among women has risen at a shocking rate. In 1997, 41 per cent of HIV infected adults were women and this figure rose to nearly 52 per cent at the end of 2009. Women’s empowerment is one of the only HIV vaccines available today. By integrating gender equality and human rights components into UN Women’s HIV/AIDS strategies, plans and policies, we hope to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.

UN Women is committed to addressing underlying factors, such as violence against women, feminized poverty and women’s limited voice in decision-making, to increase access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs, and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls.

For more information, please visit: http://www.unwomen.org/

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Are You at Risk of Contracting HIV?

Waverley Care is Scotland’s leading charity providing care and support to people living with HIV and Hepatitis C and to their partners, families and carers.  They have urged women in Scotland to get tested for HIV because many are being diagnosed dangerously late.

Waverley Care have warned that women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are slipping through the net of diagnosis because doctors assume they don’t fall into a high risk category.

The key to managing HIV is to catch it early, when it is a manageable chronic disease and not the death sentence it was once deemed to be.

But last year, more than a third of people who tested positive in Scotland were diagnosed late – at a point when the virus had already done significant damage to their immune system.

Martha Baillie, a senior manager with the Edinburgh charity, said that cases were being missed because of the ignorance of women themselves and the medical profession.

Women no longer feel pressured to stay in long-term relationships but when they become sexually active again, some are playing Russian roulette with their health by having unsafe sex.

Martha said: “Women are back on the relationship scene in a way they haven’t been for a long time and there is still an assumption that HIV is about gay men and drug users. They don’t believe they are at risk but they are.

“It is less frowned upon for women in the 40s, 50s and 60s to have different partners. That is not a bad thing.

“It is about being informed and confident enough to protect your sexual health, that’s where the gap seems to be. Women need to be tested. They should know their status. That is about taking responsibility for yourself.”

Women are being diagnosed when they are much older, some in their 50s and late 60s. Martha said: “They are not necessarily old infections, they are often new infections.”

One third of people living with HIV don’t know they have it and there is an increasing number of cases now in middle-aged and older females.

Beth, a worker with the charity, who is also HIV positive and doesn’t want to be identified, said that an HIV test was too often the last resort of the medical profession, even when women presented with all the classic symptoms.

She said: “GPs aren’t testing. They may see a professional woman who is together and well dressed and so they don’t register that HIV might be an issue.

“Those are the women in danger, who end up in hospital, having lost a few stone, with doctors scratching their heads until finally someone suggests an HIV test.

“They end up so ill because they didn’t fit the mould of someone with HIV. “The point is – there is no mould. It no longer exists.

“There are all those who, in middle age, find they are back out there and don’t have enough education on HIV because there hasn’t been any, since the terrifying adverts of the 80s.”

This year is the 30th anniversary of the first cases of HIV in the UK.

In Scotland, the epidemic was initially identified among intravenous drug users and then increasingly among gay men however in the last 10 years, HIV has become primarily sexually transmitted. There are very few new transmissions between injecting drug users as the introduction of free injecting equipment and methadone dramatically reduced infection in that category.

New infections are increasingly being seen among women – particularly those who are thought to have acquired their infection abroad in countries with a high incidence of HIV, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

In the early days of HIV, Edinburgh experienced more women testing positive than other parts of the UK as the key group infected was mainly heterosexual drug users.

When they opened in 1991, Waverley Care were pioneers in recognising that women and children needed support and have been providing group and individual support since then.

The charity also want to see more campaigning to highlight that HIV is still a risk – but would always stop short of the “scaremongering” of the 80s.

Britain had the second highest rate of female infection in Europe in all age groups.

The number of women with HIV is increasing and 32 per cent of cases in Britain are now female, with at least 27,000 having the disease. Doctors at a recent International Aids Society conference in Rome said many over-50s emerging from long-term relationships had little experience of contraception.

Expert Professor Jane Anderson said: “The number of cases in the older age group are going up significantly.”

The professor, who launched an education programme to support women with HIV, added: “The phenomenon in the over-50s is because of cultural changes – 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30.

“They are living full lives and experiencing partner changes. They have not had to think about condoms and contraception because they were married or in long-term relationships before.

“They don’t consider the risk and therefore we are seeing more becoming infected.”

Waverley Care are based in Edinburgh, you may contact them on 0131 558 1425 or online at http://www.waverleycare.org, or if yo live within Leicestershire or Rutland, we can provide support.  We offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test.  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories.  The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.  Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995

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