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This post originally appeared on the PSI Impact blog.
Clara took a chance and bought 15 units of Whisper, a new female condom, to sell in her small shop in the fast-growing city of Mzuzu, Malawi. She was willing to test demand for the product in hopes of helping women in her community while also boosting her business.
“I became a single mother myself before I was ready to have a child,” Clara explains. “I wish there were more options for women to protect themselves.”
Clara learned about the Whisper Woman’s Condom from Kitty, a medical detailer who visited the shop. Kitty described how the product was different from earlier generations of the female condom, with new features designed to make it easy and comfortable to use. Female condoms like Whisper are the only woman-controlled method that provides triple protection against unintended pregnancy, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Clara’s shop sells a variety of products including contraceptive options—male condoms, emergency contraceptive pills, and oral contraceptive pills. Clara was curious to see if the attractive packaging and new design features of Whisper would help it move off the shelves despite stigma associated with past female condoms. In Malawi and elsewhere in the region, providers and consumers alike assume that female condoms are meant for sex workers rather than the general population because programs have historically focused on distributing female condoms to this key population.
To address this stigma and other provider-related barriers to uptake of the Woman’s Condom, the USAID-funded Expanding Effective Contraceptive Options (EECO) project paired a consumer-facing marketing campaign, led by PSI, with provider-facing marketing by medical detailers like Kitty. PSI’s partner, WCG Cares (WCG), led medical detailing in the same three metropolitan areas of Malawi—Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu.
Medical detailing is commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry to promote products to medical and retail providers by visiting their places of work and discussing products with them. For Whisper, WCG’s medical detailers mapped potential retail outlets and segmented providers on their baseline perceptions of the new product. Medical detailers then provided in-depth and on-site training on Whisper, and followed up with providers regularly to identify and address any barriers that prevented them from offering the product successfully.
By the end of EECO’s work in Malawi in 2018, nearly 600 providers like Clara had stocked Whisper in venues ranging from pharmacies and kiosks to bars and hair salons. Clara found that women and men alike came seeking the product after hearing about it through the marketing campaign.
Retailers and other providers play a pivotal role in creating or blocking access to new health products like Whisper. The EECO project found that:
- WCG’s medical detailers worked to overcome potential stigma among providers. Detailers focused on the design features that differentiated Whisper from other female condoms, as well as the benefits of offering clients multiple brands and varieties of the female condom (as they do for male condoms) to drive up outlets’ total sales.
- Understandably, providers were hesitant to stock Whisper without first assessing demand. To ensure demand for providers’ supplies of Whisper, PSI conducted demand generation activities around specific outlets stocking Whisper, so that providers saw an immediate return on their investment and validated their decision to offer the product.
To learn more about lessons from the EECO project’s medical detailing of the Whisper Woman’s Condom in Malawi, check out the full case study: Expanding Effective Contraceptive Options in Malawi to Include the Woman’s Condom: Understanding the Provider.