Understanding women’s perceptions of the acceptability of vaginal health product use: towards inclusion of women in HIV prevention research.
Ngubane, Nqobile Simthandile Lungelo.
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HIV/AIDS has been a global pandemic for the past decades. Major global health organisations have made great efforts to eradicate the negative consequences of the pandemic, especially in the most negatively affected parts of the globe, such as sub-Saharan Africa. There have been numerous significant successful attempts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in these parts of the world. However, a specific population segment remains at a high risk of infection and continues to experience a rise in new cases of infection. This population is particularly women, specifically in South Africa. KwaZulu Natal, a province in South Africa, records the highest number of HIV-positive individuals, placing women at even higher risk in this region. Research further suggests that biological factors increase the risk of HIV infection in women. This study sought to understand women's perceptions of the acceptability of vaginal health product use. A total of five half-day workshops were conducted utilising participatory methodologies to gain insight into women's perception of the acceptability of vaginal health product use. Participatory methods such as journey mapping, reflexive journaling, and focus group discussions were adopted during the study to encourage the active engagement of the research participants. A purposeful sampling method was used to understand the women's perceptions better. The culture-centred approach was employed within this research to understand the topic better. The study benefited from the participation of 40 women who were interviewed. The main research findings showed that women in KZN use various vaginal products, mostly for male sexual pleasure and hygiene. These included various products, such as homemade concoctions and traditional herbs. The results showed that the women's application preferences varied, with some choosing to use ingestible vaginal products while others preferred the directly applied products. The women's perceptions of the acceptability of using vaginal products were mainly influenced by male sexual pleasure over prioritising safe sex. This is a significant concern to health organisations and communities as women remain at the infection centre. Prioritising male sexual pleasure over protection against HIV is one of the driving factors to the spread of HIV within these communities. It serves as a deterrence to health interventions put into place to fight the spread of HIV in women, such as microbicides.