Woman at a radio station (Photo by Jeroen van Loon)
| Author: Maryam Patrick | Function: Communications Officer EVA Nigeria

The tale of three young Nigerians on the search for female condoms

There is not a day that goes by that we don't hear about the high rate of HIV/AIDS or teen pregnancies amongst young people in the news in Nigeria. Now several countries and programs have shown that improving young people's access to sexual and reproductive health information and services can help to change the situation. But, as also the United Nations Commission on Life Saving Commodities reports states, 'too often, affordable, effective medicines and simple health supplies don’t reach the women who need them.'

Female condoms are one of these life saving commodities that tend to not get into the hands of young people, especially young girls. Education as a Vaccine (EVA), one of the partners advocating for the availability of female condoms in Nigeria, decided to build the capacity of young people to add their voice to the campaign. As a component of the training, we were asked to go out to public health facilities, private hospitals and pharmacies to try and gain access to female condoms.
  
The challenges we faced were very humbling and sad, to say the least. If young people can face this in urban Abuja, the capital city, we can imagine what is happening in rural areas across the 36 states of the nation.

Jimoh, 24 years old male and a university graduate

I visited a private hospital located in Kubuwa, an urban slum in Abuja. Upon getting to the hospital reception, I met a young lady who welcomed me with a smile. After the exchange of pleasantries, I said that I needed female condoms. Suddenly the smile on her face changed to something else and what I got was a question back: "WHAT?!!!" I went on to repeat myself again and this time, the reply was more than just one word: "Sorry, we don’t have that here." Determined not to give up, I went further to ask: "Is it that the condoms you have are out of stock or what?" The response again was: "No, we don't do that here." She went back to her seat and left me unattended. To prevent any further embarrassment, I knew it was time to leave immediately.  

Reuben, 25 year old male and a university graduate

I decided to visit one of the largest pharmacies in Abuja. Immediately when I got in, I saw the pharmacist walking around in his white lab coat. Expectantly and confidently I walked up to him and asked if I could buy a female condom. I thought the look on his face was shocking enough, but I was not prepared for what would come out of his mouth: "Life is a personal race, walk your path yourself. I will not help you to look for anything you’re asking me for..." Stunned and a bit confused, given that this is a private pharmacy, where I was coming to spend my money to care for my health. I stood there for a while, trying to actually figure out what he meant by the statement. It later dawn on me that he was quoting popular religious rhetoric used in Nigeria about salvation, after-life and sin.

Christy, 20 year old female and an undergraduate student

I chose to go to two different pharmacies in the commercial heart of Abuja. When I got to the counter of the first pharmacy, there were two attendants, a woman and a man. As a young lady, I decided to approach the woman and I asked specifically for a female condom. She informed me that they didn't have any available and recommended that I buy the male condoms. I insisted that I was more interested in buying a female condom and she asked sarcastically: "Do you even know how to use it?" At the moment I said yes, the male attendant stood up from his seat. He then proceeded to make fun of his colleague by saying: "So you know how to use a female condom and you have not shown me all this time..." Embarrassed, the female attendant protested: "No! I don't know how to use it... I am a Christian..." To quickly end the conversation, she insisted that I buy a male condom for N200 (approximately $1). 
I then moved to another pharmacy. This one was more quiet and I felt more comfortable asking questions. This time I was lucky, because when I asked for female condoms, the attendant immediately went to get one for me. I was eventually let down, when I was told the price. The attendant handed over to me a female condom at the price of N1750 (approximately $8.75). There was no way I was going to be able to buy that condom. Why could I buy the male condom at a relatively affordable rate of N200 but had to pay eight times the price for a female condom? I never realized how much difference there was between two products that have the same purpose.  

These are three different people with different experiences in the same city but with similar outcomes. We could not get access to female condoms. How can people, especially young people take advantage of the health benefits of such a commodity, if it is not accessible, available or affordable? For Nigeria to make considerable progress towards improving the health and development of young people as it outlines in its national and state policies, it needs to urgently and adequately address these barriers in accessing female condoms. 

The training of EVA was part of the Female Condom Advocacy Project jointly implemented with Association for Reproductive and Family Health (ARFH) and funded by Rutgers under the Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Joint Programme. 

Maryam Patrick Communications Officer EVA Nigeria

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