Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is Bleg even a word??

I don’t really care, here’s mine.

I met this guy. He is concerned that in this country a great deal of preventable death could be avoided if only condoms could be efficiently distributed.

He has an idea, which I don’t like AND I think is utterly brilliant. Bear with me and remember that this man is passionate about health.

The distribution of condoms should be done in an industrial fashion, he argues, for economies of scale and utilisation of existing channels. So far, so good. Moreover, he wants the product to get in the hands of males, which makes rice and foodstuffs a bit less useful. He needs something sold in small packets on a frequent basis is to get the condoms in the hands of individuals, free and unavoidably.

So who is going to do this? Aid agencies? They’ve tried but have no real ‘leverage’ with the intended consumer, many of whom would not going to walk across the street to get a condom even it was free. Pharmacies? IF they exist where the people are, they need to profit from every product (whether or not they are paid not to). This guy’s answer?

Cigarette companies!

He doesn’t like them any better than you or I do, but they could actually assist health in this regard. Smoking in Timor is more prevalent than you can guess. I like empty restaurants because it means some jerk is not going to light up in the middle of my meal but the life expectancy is so low that I actually think that the ability to distribute condoms and control both fertility and disease would lower the incredible infant mortality rate.

A health worker told me that in the first year of life, the infant mortality rate was immense, I think on the order of 10 per cent! Much of this was preventable and could be addressed by nutritional education, but quite a bit is due to the economic pressures caused by large families, and the poor health of mothers due to continous pregnancy and poverty, which leads to low birth weight, less robust babies and more deaths.

Cigarettes are poisonous and objectionable. However, if people are going to smoke, and nearly every male in Timor seems to, then perhaps something good can be made to come out of it.

And the tobacco companies would probably be only too happy to improve their poor image.

Of course the aid agencies won't touch it with a barge pole for fear of being tainted with the accusation of supporting cigarette companies.

So here's the bleg in two parts:

(1) Can anyone think of a way to make this idea fly? It needs support and practical demonstrations before a company is going to change its manufacturing process to wrap condoms with its products, although I understand a trial has just started in Cambodia.

(2) Can anyone suggest a better product? It needs intense market penetration, a male bias (or at least not a female one) and a sophisticated manufacturing base. If the concept could be made to work with a less objectionable product and the manufacturers were will to pick up on it, that would be good. Soap is one suggestion that has been made. Are there others?

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