Population Services International, providers of the popular Number 1 condom and OK birth control pills, is about to introduce a new birth-spacing product to Cambodia: OK injections for women.
The drug, Depo-Provera, is in wide use around the world and has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. One shot prevents a woman from becoming pregnant for three months.
It will be available starting Monday at health clinics, PSI officials say. The shots must be administered by a doctor, nurse or trained midwife, and are expected to cost less than $1.
“This is very safe and highly effective,” said Denise Harrison, deputy country representative for PSI, which has moved to new quarters at 29 Street 334.
The drug is expected to be very popular in Cambodia. According to the national Demographic and Health Survey 2000, Cambodian women have an average of four children apiece—but say their ideal family size would be three children.
Women would also prefer to wait at least two years between children, which is generally regarded as healthier for mother and child.
Lisa Firth, a registered nurse and reproductive health specialist with PSI, says Cambodians are enthusiastic about birth spacing. She said an estimated 33 percent of women of child-bearing age—as many as 1 million women—would practice birth spacing if they could get the drugs.
According to the survey, about 9 percent of Cambodian women currently practice birth spacing, while another 14 percent have had all the children they want, and use birth control so they won’t have any more.
Among those who practice birth spacing, 71 percent choose injections over birth control pills, PSI officials say.
The shots are particularly popular in rural areas, where it can be time consuming to travel to a clinic for treatment.
“In Prey Veng, people like to use injections,” said Dr Mao Matha, PSI training coordinator. “In the countryside, this is the favorite choice.”
Injections have been available through public health clinics and private providers for some time. PSI, under a program funded by the US Agency for International Development, is offering OK injections as a low-cost alternative with guaranteed quality.
“Our goal is to provide 50,000 injections this year,” Firth said. “We’ll be selling them at four for $1.” Clinics and private practitioners are expected to add service charges, she said.
The OK injections are packaged with a disposable syringe, a small sealed vial containing a three-month dose, an alcohol swab and a card reminding the patient when the next injection is due.
Firth said PSI is aiming this product at married women, rather than single working women, because it does not protect women or their partners against HIV/AIDS.
“Most people don’t like condoms,” but they remain the best available protection against the transmission of AIDS, Firth said. Since 1993, PSI has been marketing low-cost condoms to a high-risk population including sex workers.
“Now we are looking more at [promoting condom use in] sweetheart or trust relationships,” Firth said. She pointed out that women often think there is little danger in having sex with a boyfriend, but if he also patronizes sex workers, they may risking their lives.
Firth said PSI’s goal is to provide top quality, reliable contraceptives to poor people. “You can buy Trojans [a Western-made condom] at a place like Lucky Market, but they are expensive,” she said. “Or there are cheap Chinese condoms, but they may not work. We make cheap, quality goods available, and teach people how to use them correctly.”
Firth said PSI wants to expand its marketing so birth control pills and condoms can be found in any pharmacy in the country, from expensive stores in Phnom Penh to market stalls in Preah Vihear.
And while the injections will be available only in clinics, she said that eventually anyone selling PSI products will be able to direct consumers to the nearest clinic that provides them.