Nigeria has high rate of malaria deaths globally which is an indication of poor hygiene environment. In this interview, TAHIR MALIK, Senior Vice President, Africa Middle East, for Reckitt, a company that produces and distributes hygiene products such as Strepsils, Dettol, Jik, Harpic, Mortein says that poor hygiene and sanitation lead to the transmission of diseases and infections which are preventable. He spoke on other issues. Daniel Obi brings excerpts
As a key player in the hygiene market, what are some of the prominent hygiene issues that have been identified on the African continent?
According to UNICEF, more than 70% of the population in Eastern and Southern Africa have no access to basic sanitation services. The World Health Organisation records state that Nigeria accounts for the highest number of malaria deaths globally at 32%. The highest rate of open defecation also comes from the African region. These statistics are a true reflection of the state of hygiene and environmental degradation. Poor hygiene and sanitation lead to the transmission of diseases and infections which are preventable, this is the reason Reckitt is serving communities across Africa, investing in improving hygiene practices and driving behavioural change through education towards building a healthier Africa.
Does Reckitt have any intervention programmes or initiatives geared towards tackling these hygiene issues in the Sub-Saharan African region?
Reckitt in Nigeria is partnering with Government (Federal and state) and Non-profits to improve access to hygiene and sanitation. Reckitt is working to reduce Diarrhoea and Malaria through some of our initiatives; Clean Naija Initiative Partnership with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources with brands such as Dettol and Harpic:
Reckitt has been creating awareness and driving behavioural change to achieve hand hygiene and hygienic sanitation. Reckitt has also been driving sanitation access through Harpic and Lagos State Partnership. Harpic refurbished and it’s maintaining 150 public toilets in Lagos under the partnership with the state government. Harpic is also driving a grassroots program to drive sanitation awareness. Mortein Fight to End Malaria campaign where we signed on as Ambassador Nollywood celebrity Kate Henshaw to drive awareness and education on Malaria preventive measures.
In your opinion, did the Covid-19 pandemic play a significant role in the increased attention to the issue of hygiene and sanitation in Africa?
Hygiene behaviours are not new, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought in a heightened consciousness of how simple habits like hand washing with soap are very important to prevent the spread of diseases. The key is to put in practice a hygiene culture that will ensure that diseases are not easily transmittable. The behavioural change will go a long way in keeping us safe as a people. This is just the beginning, we believe that with continued education and working with other stakeholders, we can bring about a sustained behavioural change regarding adopting good hygiene habits.
Diarrhoea and malaria are among the lingering health issues in the region, often even fatal to children under 5 years old. Is Reckitt looking to partner with the government or other organizations to effectively tackle these diseases?
Due to the high disease burden in the region, collaborations and partnerships with Government and Development agencies are key to driving scale and solving the hygiene challenges. The challenges are huge and cannot be left to the government alone nor can Reckitt solve it all alone but with constructive collaborations, we can kick malaria and diarrhoea out. Reckitt in Nigeria is partnering with Government, Non-profits as well as Key influencers to improve access to hygiene and sanitation and work to reduce Diarrhoea and Malaria through education.
What is the Reckitt footprint in the African region?
Reckitt AME has about 1,800 employees with about 250 in Sub-Sahara Africa. Sub-Sahara is led out of Nigeria where we have had a presence for over 60 years providing employment opportunities to over 5,000 Nigerians directly and indirectly
Nigeria is a prime market for international organisations looking to do business and make a mark, however, its poverty index also means many cannot afford basic hygiene necessities. What’s Reckitt’s approach to this reality?
Nigeria with its huge population and resources has a big potential to be an engine driver for the rest of Africa. Huge growth opportunities exist given Low Penetration levels of categories like antiseptic liquid and toilet cleaners which will lead to improved hygiene. To mitigate this, we have launched small product sizes to provide access and affordability across the portfolio. Because it comes in sachet this has enabled Nigerians to experience premium quality at affordable prices.
Local production remains challenging for the manufacturing sector, especially when issues of energy, access to foreign exchange and household incomes are considered. How have you been able to navigate these challenges?
We believe that to give affordable products to consumers, local manufacturing is important. Reckitt has a mmanufacturing facility in Agbara, Ogun state in Nigeria producing brands like Dettol, Mortein Harpic and Jik spread over 17 hectares. Our priority always is to reach our consumers in the best possible way and to ensure access to our products.
People have a sense of pride knowing the product they produce or consume shares some level of connection with them.
We are consistently working towards expanding and upgrading our capacity as well as bringing innovation to our products. In addition, we have invested in the Harpic bottle, Dettol handwash and Harpic Sachet line with new and upgraded production lines over the last 2yrs.