Nairobi — HIV, the virus that causes Aids, may be a threat to life, but it's turning out to be an attraction for business. Sex, the main way through which the virus is transmitted, has spawned a cut-throat trade in a gadget that is believed to reduce the chances of catching the disease: condom.
The condom business is booming, and the battle for the youthful market, nearly 60 per cent of the population, has hit fever pitch in a country where the threat of catching the disease hangs permanently in the air. Over 10 brands of condoms are sold in Kenya, while many other brands have found their way on the streets and in pubs and night spots, where they are sold to revellers at cheaper prices of between Sh10 and Sh50.
Musicians, TV personalities and comedians are increasingly being used to advertise condoms as different distributors try to outdo each other. "There is competition but our ultimate goal is to sensitise our people on the importance of using condoms as a way of protecting oneself from contracting the killer disease," says Richard Ngatia, managing director of Megascope Healthcare, the distributors of Preventor condoms. Preventor comes in six versions.
"We cannot complain that the market is flooded when we want to save lives. We can only make noise when we realise that some unscrupulous businessmen are bringing into the country substandard condoms that can endanger lives."
From Preventor and Trust to Erotica, Raha and Rough Rider, the names have been chosen to arouse emotion and the spunky pictures on the packs make the pleasure almost real. All sizes of wallets are catered for.
According to Sheila Maviala, who is in charge of marketing Trust condoms at the Population Services International (PSI), the product is meant to cut across the social divide from the rich to the poor. "We sell it at Sh10 for a pack of three so that it is affordable to all," she says.
One of PSI's mandates is to increase demand and use of condoms - not just Trust. So PSI Kenya works with the Government to support distribution and ensure equitable supply of condoms countrywide. "The Government distributes high-quality condoms free of charge to those who can not afford the Sh10 and we target a different group of people who can," said Ms Maviala.
In marketing Trust using celebrities, PSI has tried to find an identity for the product among young Kenyans who adore the musicians and TV personalities, but resist the urge to have sex. "We select people who are role models to the youth. They are not only musicians; we have used sportsmen, DJs and television and radio presenters. Our current campaign uses CMB Prezzo, Deux Vultures and Kleptomaniax."
Megascope's flagship brand Preventor, manufactured by Belgian company RemedPharma, is targeted at high end of the market. It retails at Sh80 for a pack of three pieces. "Preventor is slightly expensive for the ordinary people, but its quality is also very high, and the amount has not deterred its sale and distribution" says Mr Ngatia. "There are people who consider cheap products to be of low quality and that's the market we are targeting with Preventor condoms."
Megascope uses fashion shows and modelling competition as well as golf tournaments. The Miss Preventor Contest last year attracted contestants from public universities and local colleges; people it considers its target market. Megascope is set to introduce a new condom brand in Kenya. Romantex will be the cheapest condom in the country. A pack of four pieces will retail for Sh5.