By Noah Taruberekera, Measurement, Evaluation and Learning Advisor, PSI Zimbabwe
Over the past two decades, Zimbabwe has had one of the strongest public sector condom programs in southern Africa. In a country with a 13.5% HIV prevalence rate among men and women of reproductive age, a strong condom market isn’t just important; it’s essential to protect against further HIV infections. Condoms are an important part of Zimbabwe’s national HIV prevention strategy, and although condom use has significantly increased in the past 20 years, the need remains for consistent condom promotion, especially amongst those who engage in high-risk sexual encounters.
But Zimbabwe currently faces an uncertain future for condom investments as international and local funders turn their attention away from simply funding an increased supply. International donors are placing their focus on self-sustaining condom markets to decrease reliance on international funding, while the Zimbabwean government focuses on how to best ensure access to condoms as well as their use.
So, how can international donors and governments invest in condom programming in a way that meets their own goals as well as the persistent need for funding? A recent study PSI conducted in Zimbabwe set out to find the answer to this question by demonstrating where international donors and government investments can have the most impact on condom programming and markets.
The study aimed to tests the impact of an intensive intervention that involved socially marketing condoms and supporting the public sector on overall market supply and demand in Zimbabwe’s challenging economy. Here’s what the study found about making strategic investments to create strong condom markets:
Key Takeaway #1: Condom brands should be positioned against each other complimentarily rather than competitively.
The study’s findings highlighted the need to better understand consumer preferences and learn how each market segment can best serve consumers based on their preferences. Before this study, PSI had already been conducting research in the public and commercial sectors to segment audiences so that the right condoms would be marketed to the right target audience. During the study, PSI marketed its own condom brand, Protector Plus, at an increased price to the audiences it had previously segmented. Findings showed that consumers in the target audiences felt the condoms were worth an increased price. Future investments in the condom market should ensure that all market sectors—public, non-profit and commercial—market to the right audiences, and don’t compete for the same customers.
Key Takeaway #2: Mass media alone isn’t enough to motivate consumers to buy condoms: you need to engage with consumers on a personal level, too.
Intensive in-person promotional activities, including increased visibility for the Protector Plus brand and promotion of the Protector Plus condom brand at the community level, led to more attachment to the brand and better perceptions of its effectiveness to protect against HIV and unintended pregnancy. Increased demand requires a consumer-centered approach to generate genuine client insights so that the path to market-wide demand is clear for everyone in the market.
Key Takeaway #3: It takes time to create meaningful behavior change.
The most important principle of social marketing to apply to condom market development is that good behavior change strategy takes time. In the public and commercial sectors, where distribution figures are the main indicator of success, it takes time to shift the focus to more meaningful figures like condom use, equity and supply source.
Key Takeaway #4: Zimbabwe needs a more accurate picture of all condoms sold in both the public and private sectors and at the national and local levels.
It is essential to conduct research that results in quality intelligence about the market to inform decision making and identify where to make changes that will create the most impact across the market. During the study, only inconsistent public sector data was available which made it impossible to assess public activities that had been conducted to improve condom distribution.
Want to learn more about why it’s so important to take a strategic approach to invest in the condom market for the fight against HIV? Learn about potential areas for further research and other discoveries PSI Zimbabwe made while studying the condom market here.
Banner image: (c)Unitaid/Eric Gauss