11 March 2014

Zambia: HIV Great Challenge to Economic Growth


HIV/AIDS has been ravaging most parts of the African continent over the past years. The pandemic has been one of the most devastating in world history.

HIV/AIDS' impact on most world economies need not be over emphasised, as it has a direct bearing on the world's most productive age groups who are supposed to constitute the most profitable markets.

According to the Post-Evaluation Brief for Zambia 2012, HIV/AIDS is one of the greatest challenges facing Zambia. With a prevalence rate of almost 14 per cent, it is still one of the most severely affected countries worldwide today.

Due to its pronounced spread and the fact that it primarily affects people of productive age, the disease has enormously impaired national economic and social development in the last two decades.

In most African communities, the biggest contributing factor to the ever increasing levels of the HIV/AIDS rates is the failure to acknowledge and accept the reality of this problem.

Three years ago I lost a close cousin from AIDS related complications. However, soon after burial during a family gathering, our elderly uncles from the village were quick to draw their own conclusions. "This death is not natural, suggested the eldest uncle, whoever is responsible for this will not see peace" he remarked.

Most African governments have started working in partnership with the corporate sector in ensuring that they fight this pandemic.

Tremendous efforts however, are being taken towards prevention and awareness campaigns . In the developed countries, some corporate entities have been funding research activities for HIV vaccines at a number of research Institutions and universities.

One such organisation in the United States of America is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its largest investment is in efforts to discover and develop an HIV vaccine.

Another effort being made so far is the application of Social Marketing as an intervention measure. Social Marketing is a marketing concept which uses the principle marketing approaches in providing solutions to people's social problems.

Social Marketing has been used in a number of sub Saharan countries as a tool of promoting good health, as well as the use of prevention methods to reduce the HIV prevalence rates.

Social marketing has played a great role in behavioral changes of people in the highly affected areas. What we all need to understand is that Social marketing's main purpose is to motivate and change individual behaviors.

This and many other interventions already in place will only be effective to an extent that there are no more infections.

But until the vaccines are found, the use of HIV/AIDS medicines should be promoted. The pandemic is a big social challenge which has revealed a great human need and a catastrophe which needs devising workable and practical solutions.

People living with HIV/AIDS in this regard, should be viewed as people living with a need. As marketers our primary role and pre occupation is the anticipation, identification and satisfaction of people's needs, which ultimately should result in mutually beneficial outcomes, you are happy we are happy.

What I am trying to put into a clear perspective is the fact that in order to effectively reduce the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, we do not only need to focus on behavior change and prevention.

What we need to do is to reinforce the two interventions with the adequate distribution, supply and easy access of medicines, for those that may already be infected with the illness.

In this case there is a need to assess individual requirements based on existing statistics and information. This should then enable all the relevant stakeholders to come up with a marketing strategy which must ideally focus on the following; Product or medicines, how will the medicines be packaged, labelled?

Are they going to be generic or branded? And coming to price, what should be the cost of the medicines, is the price acceptable; can the low-end customer afford?

What about the place or distribution, how should the medicines be distributed? Are the medicines going to be accessed from all rural health centers and are all infected people going to have easy access?

Promotion, this should address the issue of advertising and publicity. Are posters going to be printed in all local languages and radio adverts produced in vernacular? Are we engaging the public through drama?

Remember that what has been elucidated is merely the application of the basic marketing mix and that the other elements of the marketing mix could be applied at some point.

The author is Consultant in Marketing, Public Relations and Customer Service.

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