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At the International Harm Reduction Conference in Beirut

Published on 2011-04-11 by Sille Jansen

Right now, my colleague and I are at the International Harm Reduction Conference in Beirut, Lebanon. The first thing that may come to mind is: Wow, Beirut, the weather must be great! At least that is what I thought when getting on the plane in Amsterdam on Friday. Yet, it seems that rainclouds also have taken a serious interest in Harm Reduction.

Two points that reduce our harm: the food is great and the conference is largely taking place underground. The conference is at the Habtoor hotel, a giant hotel in a fancy part of Beirut with a dome (kind of like the Versaille piramid but than in a round shape – like a see-through ice-cream scoop). At the lower floor of this dome – in fact underground – you will find the Universal Access to Female Condom booth. From here, no rain clouds can be seen and one can just pretend the sun is shining. The booth is truly very nice, decorated with a poster (Take control – protect yourself and your partners – use the female condom), different types of female condoms, and two lovely ladies in red t-shirts who explain everything there is to know about female condoms.

Now, what is this booth doing at a Harm Reduction Conference? To most people – including people who use drugs – sex is a very pleasurable experience. That is why people who use drugs run the regular risks when having this pleasurable experience: becoming pregnant unwantedly and getting STI's such as HIV/AIDS. In fact, the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst people who use drugs happens mainly through unprotected sex. And having safe sex is often a challenge, also for people using drugs.

That is why we think the female condom should be an integral part of harm reduction programmes. With this fantastic product – of which different varieties are now available ( – women can take control and protect themselves and relax while having sex. Not only does the female condom protect against the same STI's as the male condom – it even protects you better against herpes and syphilis than the male condom, because it protects the outside of the vagina.

What is so great about this conference is that the vast majority of people are really very interested and curious about the different types of female condoms. Some participants have never seen a female condom before and didn't even know it existed. We have explained and demonstrated the female condoms all day – and I must say I am rather exhausted. MaybeI will dream about female condoms tonight...Or maybe just about the sun shining :)

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