An improved version of the female condom and a new vaginally-inserted contraceptive are among the latest innovations in female reproductive health.
Scientists have come up with these improved versions to stem the high risk of sexually transmitted infections among women.
According to Dr Christopher Elias president and chief executive of Path, the global body that provides tailor-made health technologies, the development of such products begins in the field with potential users identifying problems of high HIV and pregnancy incidence.
A new technology is then developed and tested in the community as consultations with governments are scaled up, Dr Elias said during the recent Pacific Health Summit.
It is on this basis and the criticism that the original female condom drew that scientists have now improved the product, saying it is a simple to use reproductive health solution that, along with the Path-developed SILCS diaphragm offer women more prevention choices.
The timing of this product is critical; women represent more than half of the 33 million HIV infections worldwide and in developing countries alone, about 80 million pregnancies occur unintended, according to the latest 2011 estimates.
Now, Path has redesigned the female condom to be more acceptable to both partners with design features that enable easy insertion, use and comfort as well as with unique, secure fitting during use, good sensation and easy removal.
In many countries, including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania the first female condom was ditched because it was not user-friendly. Users complained that it was noisy during sexual intercourse although a user survey in California found that partners loved the noise.
The female condom is now under review by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) technical committees, whose approval will lead to bulk public-sector supply/purchase by UN agencies, Path officials said.
The female condom funded by the Dutch government was granted CE mark approval in December 2010, which certifies that the device meets consumer safety standards and will soon hit the market.
Another product also under clinical validation is the SILCS diaphragm, used by women to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
The SILCS diaphragm was described as a much better product in terms of insertion and comfort than previously manufactured, diaphragms, regular women users revealed. The SILCS, which replaced the latex diaphragms is “easy to insert and remove, eliminated latex-related odours, allergic reactions and has greater durability”.
Its new design adopted after wide-scale user input is a single-size fit, reusable, more comfortable and with a contoured rim.
Studies into the design and development of the SILCS diaphragm began in 1994, and user-centred evaluations of over 200 prototype designs resulted in refined performance and features.
One of its features, the single-size design, is meant to simplify supply and provision especially in resource limited settings. Scientists hope that the single-size device will be provided over the counter or outside the clinic-based system where regulatory authority and clinical practice allow, especially in low-resource settings.