BackgroundThe COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on people living with HIV in Zambia, many of whom lost their livelihoods due to lockdown and closure of economic activities.
The ILO, in partnership with the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV (NZP+), designed and implemented an economic empowerment initiative which aimed at building the resilience of people living with HIV against COVID-19 and similar future shocks. Following an extensive consultative process with support groups of people living with HIV associated with NZP+ on viable income-generation activities, the ILO, the Zambia Federation of Employers (ZFE) and National AIDS Council, Zambia settled on the commercial production and sale of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which were much in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. NZP+ support groups were also helped to set up and run their own microenterprises using the profit from the sales of the sanitizers.
Salient features of the strategyThe ILO and NZP+ collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) and secured their guidance in producing quality hand sanitizers.
The ILO provided financial and technical support to NZP+ to set up a production unit, procure raw materials and organize training for production as per specified protocols and marketing.
The Zambia Federation of Employers played a critical role in supporting the project by creating market linkages for the sanitizers and facilitating their sales amongst their member companies, particularly the First National Bank Zambia, Endrone Petroleum and Black International.
The National AIDS Council assisted in developing systems to ensure proper identification of beneficiaries and disbursement of profit to support groups of people living with HIV associated with the NZP+.
Through the support groups affiliated with NZP+, 390 households worst affected by COVID-19 were selected and benefitted from the profit of the sales of the hand sanitizers.
“Among the vulnerable groups that were severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, were people living with HIV who were unable to access their care and support services and more importantly their day-to-day basic needs because of movement restrictions. That is why we worked with the ILO in this economic empowerment programme for the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV. The results have been amazing. With the availability of training, credit and linkages to market, people living with HIV were not only able to earn their livelihoods, but there was also an overall improvement on their health, well-being, and self-esteem. We are proud of the success demonstrated by NZP+ and for the financial and technical support from the ILO.”
Dr Connie Osborne, Director General, National HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Council (NAC), Zambia
Beneficiaries were supported in groups as opposed to individual households. The support groups invested the assigned resources in their micro businesses such as tailoring, peanut butter making, hair dressing and the production of vegetables. With this, the resources allocated to groups could generate profits that were then shared with the group members.
Example of a support groupThe Twafwilishanye support group of people living with HIV was in the business of selling clothes. This business run the risk of closure during COVID-19 lockdown. Clothes were not selling much, and they were not able to pay even the rent of the shop.
The group received USD 458 from the NZP+ economic empowerment project to strengthen their thrift clothes business and at the same time start a hair salon business, which they were keen on. The group bought a hair dryer, a blower, and some braiding wigs. The hair salon started making profits soon. The group was able to pay the rent of the shop, which now has both the thrift shop store as well as a hair salon.
“The business is now making on average 900 USD per month. The group now has the capacity to support each other whenever a member falls sick or experiences a bereavement. Adherence to life-saving anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV has also increased,” said Ms. Regina Katungu, Secretary for the Twafwilishanye Support Group.
NZP+ members were also supported by the ILO in development of their entrepreneurship skills to help them set up their own businesses. ILO engaged 50 people living with HIV to get trained in the ILO’s GET Ahead for Women in Enterprise training programme.
“This economic empowerment initiative was very timely. It came as a big relief for us as people living with HIV. Most of our members work in the informal economy who were laid off mainly due to the fear of COVID-19 transmission and the inability of employers to pay their wages. The ILO’s support and entrepreneurship training enabled our members to start or improve their businesses and take care of their families.”
Fred Misumbi Chungu, Executive Director, Network of Zambian People Living with HIV (NZP+)
ResultsBetween September 2020 – March 2023:
- A total of 390 households (300 female-headed and 90 male-headed households) benefitted from the programme through the 25 support groups of people living with HIV who were provided with funds from profits generated through the sale of hand sanitizers to help the group start or improve their enterprise.
- The profits - USD16,222 - that the households generated enabled them to meet necessities such as food, clothing, and school fee for their children.
- NZP+ and their member support groups were part of the project conceptualization, and implementation. This enhanced their ownership and led to the success of the initiative.
- Engagement of all relevant partners in conceptualizing the project helped. Discussions with NZP+ on assessing the needs, taking stock of their ongoing business activities and existing skill sets helped.
- Goal-oriented business training, building over existing skills/interests of support groups helped. At the end of the training, groups agreed on one project that they would invest in as a group - whether to scale up on existing businesses or diversify.
- The engagement of the Zambia Federation of Employers resulted in identifying enterprises who bought the hand sanitizers produced by NZP+. Identifying markets ahead of production resulted in smooth running of the project.
- Developing a system of quality assurance of hand sanitizers, with the involvement of WHO was key.
- The National AIDS Council’s role in helping the NZP+ develop systems for selection of beneficiaries and distributing profits to support groups played a very important role in the success of the initiative.
Looking into the future
- With the drop in COVID-19 cases and subsequent decline in demand for hand sanitizers, the NZP+ is now exploring other products that can be produced and marketed by their support groups.
- NZP+ has identified 50 beneficiaries to undergo entrepreneurship development training. The funds generated from the project will be used as catalytic funds for these beneficiaries to help them set up their businesses once they complete their training.