Mary Ann Leeper, senior strategist, Female Health Company
Who she is: Mary Ann Leeper is senior strategic advisor for the Female Health Company (AMEX: FHC), after being its president and COO for more than 10 years.
What she does: She is a member of the FHC board and is chair and board member of the Female Health Foundation, which she founded in 1994. She is co-founder of the Business Woman’s Initiative against HIV/AIDS. Leeper serves on the Board of Neenah Paper, Inc. (NYSE: NP), a manufacturer and distributor of paper products, and is chair of its nominating and governance committee.
Why she does it: “My goal is to help millions of women protect themselves from HIV and AIDS,” she says. “It is not a simple goal, but it is one I am determined to do everything possible to achieve.”
FEMALE CONDOMS 2.0: THE NEW WEAPON IN THE FIGHT AGAINST HIV / AIDS
By Hope Katz Gibbs
You may not have heard of Mary Ann Leeper, but you certainly have seen the results of her hard work.
As a senior strategic advisor for the Female Health Company, she received the prestigious “Woman Entrepreneurship” award from Temple University’s School of Business in November 2003, and a recognition award in 2005 by certain United Nations and global health agencies for her pioneering efforts in the work of women’s health, particularly relating to female protection and reproductive health.
Leeper gives lectures and presentations at various colleges and universities across the country and has also contributed to publications regarding global entrepreneurship, gender bias, corporate social responsibility, women’s issues in the developing world, and prevention programs against HIV/AIDS.
Most recently, she helped to launch the newest version of the female condom, a program that she is confident will save the lives of millions of women and men who otherwise may have shared or contracted HIV and AIDS.
Below you’ll find a Q&A that Leeper did in 2011 with Disruptive Women in Health Care, a blog created by Robin Strongin of Amplify Public Affairs. I published it in the May issue of my online magazine, “www.beinkandescent.com.”
Disruptive Women: Tell us about the Female Health Company’s initiative to distribute female condoms in Washington, DC.
Mary Ann Leeper: The initiative is the coming together of five different
groups: The MAC Foundation, the CDC, the Department of Health, the Female Health Company, and CVS. Our goal is simply to bring the female condom to women in the DC area, which currently has the highest rate of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the country. The Department of Health has initiated a strong prevention outreach program. They’re also tying some of the key, community-based organizations into the programs.
Disruptive Women: Is it true that the FDA approved the female condom almost 20 years ago?
Mary Ann Leeper: That’s right. The FDA approved the first female condom in 1993. This version was approved about a year ago, and our goal is to educate women about its effectiveness and distribute it in cities that have the highest rates of STDs and HIV.
Disruptive Women: What is different about this new condom?
Mary Ann Leeper: We switched from a polyurethane material to a synthetic latex material, called Nitrile. The shift enabled us to move from a welding process, which is very intensive and expensive, to a dipping process that is similar to the way male condoms are made. This reduces the cost to manufacture them, and we pass those dramatic savings on to the women and NGOs so they can better afford to buy them.
Disruptive Women: They’re crazy expensive, right?
Mary Ann Leeper: They were. But this new version of the product is at least 30 percent less. Plus, the more an organization orders, the lower the cost per unit. You can buy a box on Amazon.com for about $20. Our goal is to make them available on pharmacy websites in the coming months.
Disruptive Women: Women can buy them over the counter now, is that right?
Mary Ann Leeper: Yes. They are available in CVS stores in cities around the country.
Disruptive Women: Let’s get technical for a minute. Men say they have issues with wearing condoms because it takes away the spontaneity of the moment. Will women have the same complaint?
Mary Ann Leeper: That’s a great question. In Chicago, where the product was introduced this spring, a group hosted a race to see how fast women could insert the female condom versus the male condom. The female condom won. Granted, our research shows that it takes two to three tries to be comfortable with the process. But it’s very similar to inserting a tampon, and takes about as long.
Disruptive Women: Can it be worn all day?
Mary Ann Leeper: Yes, but realistically most women won’t do that. The directions indicate that it should be inserted about 20 minutes before becoming intimate.
Disruptive Women: Tell us a little about its success rate in terms of preventing pregnancy, as compared to birth-control pills.
Mary Ann Leeper: The female condom is comparable to male condoms, which have between 93 percent to 95 percent pregnancy-prevention rate. That’s lower than oral contraceptives, injectables, or the IUD, which are 99 percent effective.
Disruptive Women: By reducing the cost, and making them effective in preventing disease transmission and pregnancy, you seem to be increasing the probability that you’ll help more women who need and want this kind of product.
Mary Ann Leeper: That is definitely our goal. Women are the fastest growing group of persons contracting HIV and STD in the United States. This effort is being supported by a lot of powerful organizations that are trying to protect women from disease. Everybody is working together to make it happen, and we thank Disruptive Women in Health Care, and Be Inkandescent Magazine, for helping us spread the word.
For more information about Mary Ann Leeper’s project, visit www.femalehealth.com.