In Zimbabwe, Hair Salons Promote Female Condom Use to Protect Against HIV

Condom maker PSI-Zimbabwe has struggled for six years to sell its female condom to Zimbabwean women, in part because doing so required interacting with women on how to use the product. The company set out to solve this problem by engaging hairdressers throughout Zimbabwe to popularize the condom using their interpersonal skills, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks reported.

The female condom, like its male counterpart, was originally distributed through conventional outlets: clinics, pharmacies and supermarkets. But PSI-Zimbabwe altered its strategy after recognizing critical difficulties involved in its promotion. "We asked ourselves some questions, like 'where do women spend a lot of their time?' and 'who would they be most comfortable talking to [someone] about such an intimate topic?'... The answers were that women spent most of their time at home and at hair salons, and so was born the hair-salon and the home-meeting initiatives," a company statement said.

Over several months, PSI-Zimbabwe has trained around 800 hairdressers at 230 salons across the country on how to discuss the condom and demonstrate its advantages. The company polled 400 women who visited salons involved in the initiative and found that 59 percent of them felt they were at risk of contracting HIV; about 65 percent identified the condom as a basic prevention method against STDs including HIV; and 84 percent said they would feel comfortable purchasing the condom at a salon.

"Many clients say they could not buy the condom from shops and pharmacies for fear of being ridiculed by other shoppers as prostitutes or immoral," said hairdresser Memory Mabhena. "But now that it is being sold at salons, where the sellers are women, they are much more comfortable in buying it."