HLL Life Care: An Indian Success Story

By M. Jacob Abraham
The author is Deputy Director, PIB, Thiruvananthapuram.

Thiruvananthapuram, Apr 16, 2013 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India): HLL Life Care Ltd, Thiruvananthapuram under the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry has become one of the largest producers of condoms in the world.  HLL's total annual condom production capacity has now touched 1616 million pieces. Overseas and domestic demand for condoms has grown manifold especially in the wake of the Central government's launch of free condom distribution in rural districts which is a high-focus area for HLL.  The company has started a major drive to augment production capacity in its units.  As part of this action plan, the production capacity at its primary production plants in Peroorkada unit has been enhanced from 1,066 to 1,246 million pieces per annum by installing two moulding machines.  The company also manufactures condoms at its Belgaum and Hyderabad units, apart from Peroorkada.

"Demand in the domestic and the overseas markets are on the rise.  We are also on a major expansion drive to cope with the need.  In the last three months, we have added a capacity of 120 million pieces.  Another round of expansion has also been planned", said HLL Chairman and Managing Director Dr. M. Ayyappan.  "We supplied around 1,040 million condoms to the Health Ministry alone last year.  There has been added pressure with the Government launching door-to-door delivery of condoms free of cost to stabilize the population.  Besides, a rising awareness among people is also driving demand in the domestic sector.  We are looking to bolster production considerably during 2013-14 and remain as one of the world leaders", he added.

The Union Health Ministry has identified 266 high-focus districts in the country to deliver contraceptives at people's doorsteps with the help of accredited social health activists (AHSAs) as part of efforts at population control.  HLL is the main supplier of products for this scheme.

As part of its drive to optimise production and minimise wastage, the company has also installed a new vulcanising machine.  The new machine would help keep heat distribution at an optimum level resulting in reduction of process wastages and rejections in vulcanising section apart from reducing energy consumption.  The company also launched trial production of an over-wrapping machine in the packaging section.

Female Condoms, Femidom

Female condoms made their entry into the Indian market through HLL Lifecare Ltd.  While sales are slow among urban women, the female condom is being promoted by government bodies and NGOs among sex workers as protection against HIV/AIDS.   Dr. M. Ayyappan noted, "Currently, we are manufacturing around three million female condoms and 1,600 million male condoms annually for the Indian and overseas markets.  The difference in numbers says it all."  He attributes the reason to conservative mindsets, ignorance about the product and accessibility.  Since the Indian market is slow to accept the production, HLL took a decade to make the male condom as popular as it is now.  Dr. Ayyappan is confident that the female condom too will begin to make an impact in the right direction in a matter of years.  HLL plans to introduce the natural latex based female condom by mid 2013 in the market.

The female condom was invented by Dr. Lasse Hessel, a Danish physician in the 1980s.  The first generation FC1 female condom was made from polyurethane.  First introduced in the market in the nineties, the Femidom or female condom came at a time when people were waking up to the scary reality of AIDS.

Condoms are still considered a men's product.  At the global level the female condom was quick to catch people's attention, thanks to aggressive marketing techniques.  This product received mixed reviews from different quarters of the world.  Getting used to the idea of wearing a condom, for most women, was not worth the effort.  Slowly, in other countries, the Femidom made a difference in the lives of women who did not have a say in their sexual health before the product came into their lives.  Women were using it to protect themselves against partners who refused to wear condoms.

Most people are still unaware of female condom or do not have access to it.  Reports state that the demand though has come from unexpected quarters like developing countries where women felt empowered with choice to use protection.

The next version, FC2, was made from synthetic nitrile at a reduced cost.  The World Health organization (WHO) approved the FC2 for purchase by U.N.agencies in developing countries where the Femidom played a strong role in sex education programmes for women.

From an acceptability study conducted by Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT) in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra, it was found that people were open to the idea of using female condom.  More than 90,000 female condoms were marketed in Andhra Pradesh through a social marketing programme in 2006.  The following year, a similar plan was executed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal.  In 2008, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) decided to make female condom available to sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal.  FC2 female condom gives women control and choice over their own sexual health as women can protect themselves when their partner does not want to use a male condom.  Women in urban and rural areas in India have not started using Femidom to complement already existing family planning and HIV/AIDS programming.

HLL has its female condom assembling facility at Cochin Special Economic Zone (CSE), Kakkanad.  "Currently the annual capacity of Kochi factory is 7.5 million pieces.  We will be adding another 25 million by the end of this year.  Apart from supplying female condoms to national programmes under the ministry of health and family welfare, we also export female condoms to be South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC) markets", said Dr. M. Ayyappan.  "Female condoms have the potential to revolutionize safer sex for diverse populations.  They are also the only women - initiated method available today that offers dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections including HIV", Dr. Ayyappan explained.  Global female condom day is being observed on September 12 every year.  HLL produces female condom under the brand name "Velvet".

- PIB Features, with inputs from HLL Life Care Ltd., Thiruvananthapuram, a Public Sector undertaking under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of India