Disease Marketing in Nigeria

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Patrick Iwelunmor

According to Wikipedia, “Marketing refers to the process an organisation undertakes to engage its target audience, build strong relationships to create value in order to capture value in return. It is one of the primary components of business management and commerce.” Google adds that “marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Disease marketing is any range of activities that encourages the display of any form of sickness or disease with the intention of drawing sympathy and financial aid from members of the public. In Nigeria, it has become a seriously rising menace that the Nigerian government and relevant agencies are supposed to checkmate before it turns to an international embarrassment for the country. Investigations by this writer shows that it has become the norm on major streets of highly populated Nigerian cities.

People suffering from diseases, ranging from leg ulcers to different kinds of tumours, are displayed at the centre of roads, with accompanying music and emergency alms collectors who receive the monetary contributions from passersby, on behalf of the afflicted. Most of these diseases which come in form of open sores are not well dressed and attract flies. This scenario alone is not good for the health of passersby and people living around such areas.

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Allowing the sick to use their sicknesses to solicit money should not be arbitrarily done. Government must know that there are very grave social implications in allowing the trend to continue. Apart from the obvious dangers that the diseased themselves are exposed to, they are also usually manipulated by people who claim to help them raise funds. We have seen cases of similar fund-raising in which the monies collected were made away with by the so-called fundraisers.

Due to the chaotic vehicular traffic situations in most Nigerian cities, these disease marketers or traffic beggars may end up being knocked down by reckless drivers or find themselves in the middle of social unrests that could affect their wellbeing. For instance, during the Jos sectarian crisis of 7 September, 2001, this writer witnessed the gruesome murder of beggars, especially lepers, who were caught up in the stampede that ensued during the violence.

Moreover, some of these beggars who flaunt their ailments to elicit public sympathy could also be targets of ritual- killers and body-part merchants. Tina Nwezw, et al, in a research titled, “An assessment of the trainability of beggars and the destitute in Abakaliki Nigeria: Implication for policy on their health, vocational rehabilitation and social reintegration”, echo some of the concerns raised by this writer: “The negative impacts of begging and destitution to the health and socio-economic development in Nigeria are indisputable. For instance, beggars and destitute persons have been known to suffer diverse chronic illnesses that end up not getting the required medical attention for as long as their lives continue to tick like a clock.

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“Beggars equally contend against dehumanising occurrences of ritual decapitation, rape, rejection, commercialised body parts plundering, hunger, lynching and physical assaults born out of hatred for their persons”.

The writers also bemoaned the lack of government policy in regulating the activities of beggars and the destitute who fall into the vulnerable group, especially in low and middle income countries (LMICs): “Unfortunately, there is no public policy that regulates begging and destitution. Neither is there any health policy that outlines guidelines for their healthcare, rehabilitation and meaningful re-integration into society. This is a common situation in the LMICs including most African countries. The current global emphasis on health equity demands that the health and social-wellbeing of the vulnerable like the beggars and the destitute be taken into consideration in the policy making process.”

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As a matter of urgency, the government in Nigeria, from the federal to the local level, should take the matter of this vulnerable group into serious consideration. Like every other Nigerian, they deserve to be protected by the laws of the land and should be accorded special privileges because of their conditions.

Regulating the disease marketing/begging industry should be a major policy thrust of any well-meaning government, as most nations of the world are working towards the actualisation of health equity. The Lagos State government has a lot of work to do in this regard. Being the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, Lagos State is one of the places where these beggars run to in search of succour and their presence in major roundabouts casts a dark shadow on the toga of excellence with which it has been known for decades.

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