Special Feature: Female-Initiated Methods of STI/HIV Prevention

Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 581-592

First online:

Constraints faced by sex workers in use of female and male condoms for safer sex in urban Zimbabwe

  • Sunanda RayAffiliated withSouthern Africa HIV/AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) Email author 
  • , Janneke van de WijgertAffiliated withPopulation, Council
  • , Peter MasonAffiliated withUniversity of Zimbabwe Medical School
  • , Francis NdowaAffiliated withWorld Health Organization
  • , Caroline MaposhereAffiliated withWomen and AIDS Support Network

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We investigated whether female condoms are acceptable to sex workers in Harare and whether improved access to male and female condoms increases the proportion of protected sex episodes with clients and boyfriends. Sex workers were randomly placed in groups to receive either male and female condoms (group A, n=99) or male condoms only (group B, n=50) and were followed prospectively for about 3 months each. We found a considerable burden of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in our cohort at enrollment (86% tested HIV positive and 34% had at least one STI). Consistent male condom use with clients increased from 0% to 52% in group A and from 0% to 82% in group B between enrollment and first follow-up 2 weeks later and remained high throughout the study. Few women in group A reported using female condoms with clients consistently (3%–9%), and use of either condom was less common with boyfriends than with clients throughout the study (8%–39%) for different study groups, visits, and types of condom). Unprotected sex still took place, as evidenced by an STI incidence of 16 episodes per 100 woman-months of follow-up. Our questionnaire data indicated high self-reported acceptability of female condoms, but focus group discussions revealed that a main obstacle to female condom use was client distrust of unfamiliar methods. This study shows that a simple intervention of improving access to condoms can lead to more protected sex episodes between sex workers and clients. However, more work is needed to help sex workers achieve safer sex in noncommercial relationships.


Female condoms HIV/AIDS Sex workers Zimbabwe