Recent measles outbreak demonstrates why health communication matters: PRmoment Health Communications Review

PRmoment's weekly 'Healthcare Communications Review' column looks at the biggest healthcare trends every week and analyses the communications implications. In partnership with SPAG, A Finn Partners Company.

Over a decade ago, I was very active in the field of health communication, especially with regard to the public health challenges such as HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.

One of the major insights during this period is the amount of stigma there is around taking TB and HIV medication openly; this was especially true for women. This stigma still persists for TB. Another issue I noticed was the suspicion towards vaccines.

While making a documentary film on some of these issues, I discovered that oral polio vaccines were often treated with suspicion. There were strong rumours that its caused infertility. It took door-to-door communication coupled with a towering personality like Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan to help assuage some of the suspicions.

One core feature of polio prevention and HIV/AIDS treatment has been strong advocacy which did have an impact on behaviour change. It might be time to revisit this playbook, with a measles outbreak in Maharashtra being linked to unvaccinated status.

The anti-vaxxer Index 

Anti-vaxxer sentiment is quite difficult to deal with mixed as it can be right-wing nationalism and pseudo-science. Especially since they have well-known celebrity advocates ranging from top athletes such as Novak Djokovic and Aaron Rodgers to entertainment stars such as Letitia Wright, and Nicki Minaj. 

In India, fortunately, there has been little advocacy against vaccination by celebrities, but among everyday citizens, fears do persist.

What does this mean for communicators?

1) The CDC, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention carries this great resource which can help communicators plan their health campaigns. This resource called 'Making Health Communication PRogrammes Work' says communication can:

• Increase the intended audience’s
knowledge and awareness of a health
issue, problem, or solution
• Influence perceptions, beliefs, and
attitudes that may change social norms
• Prompt action
• Demonstrate or illustrate healthy skills
• Reinforce knowledge, attitudes,
or behaviour
• Show the benefit of behaviour change
• Advocate a position on a health issue
or policy
• Increase demand or support for
health services

2) This is how, according to the handbook mentioned above, you can plan effective health communication:

Define the communication campaign goal effectively:
• Identify the larger goal
• Determine which part of the larger goal could be met by a communication campaign
• Describe the specific objectives of the campaign; integrate these into a campaign plan

Define the intended audience effectively:
• Identify the group to whom you want to communicate your message
• Consider identifying subgroups to whom you could tailor your message
• Learn as much as possible about the intended audience; add information about beliefs,
current actions, and social and physical environment to demographic information


Create messages effectively:

• Brainstorm messages that fit with the communication campaign goal and the
intended audience(s)
• Identify channels and sources that are considered credible and influential by the
intended audience(s)
• Consider the best times to reach the audience(s) and prepare messages accordingly
• Select a few messages and plan to pretest them

Pretest and revise messages and materials effectively:
• Select pretesting methods that fit the campaign’s budget and timeline
• Pretest messages and materials with people who share the attributes of the
intended audience(s)
• Take the time to revise messages and materials based on pretesting findings

Implement the campaign effectively:


• Follow the plans you developed at the beginning of the campaign
• Communicate with partners and the media as necessary to ensure the campaign
runs smoothly
• Begin evaluating the campaign plan and processes as soon as the campaign
is implemented

In Other News

1) Post-Covid consumption of Dolo up. Check out what our previous column had to say about this issue.

That's it for this week. Special thanks to SPAG, a FINN Partner company for their ongoing support for this weekly column.



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