Healthy Caribbean 2012: Rallying for action on NCDs (Part 1)

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On May 28 and 29 2012 I had the opportunity to attend the Healthy Caribbean Coalition‘s (HCC) Non Communicable Disease (NCD) PreventionImage and Strategic planning workshop for civil society organizations, held at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston Jamaica. About 13 Caribbean territories were present at the workshop, with over 100 representatives from Ministries of Health, various non governmental societies (e.g. diabetes and cancer associations), the private sector, international and regional agencies and academia.

ImageOf special note in attendance was Jamaican Minister of Education, the Honourable Ronald Thwaites who set the tone of the event early, declaring his Ministry’s full commitment to partner with the HCC. He spoke about the “bulla and bag juice’ culture in school feeding in Jamaica and it probable impacts on a child’s poor educational and health outcomes. He stated his intention to address these and other issues this and requested support from the Coalition for the development of the education curriculum which will include messages and activities to persuade students about the advantages of healthy living.

Sir George Alleyne, who, by the end of the workshop was declared Patron of the HCC, advocated for “the NCD approach” which is a “determined, sustained effort to address NCDs  subsuming sectoral and organizational hubris to a united collective focus on the task of prevention and control of NCDs in the Caribbean”.

Communications lessons coming from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition campaign:

The campaign of the HCC has been not only one the the best branded health campaigns of the region, but also innovative and participative.

The “Get the Message” campaign was a mobile phone text message campaign started by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition to raise awareness about NCDs and the UN High-level Meeting. Working with only volunteers, the campaign set out to get 1 million text messages in support for NCDs from people in 17 Caribbean countries. People simply had to text “yes” to a specific number and by partnering with mobile phone providers, there was no cost involved. The campaign ran television and radio PSAs, worked with local radio stations and concert venues, leveraged Facebook and Twitter, and staged two all day text-a-thons. Although the goal was to reach 1 million text messages, in reality, nothing like this has been done before. After five months, they have received over 460,000 text messages.Considered a success, the organizers offer key takeaway points for people wishing to engage in similar efforts:
1.  Any campaign should educate their audience in addition to asking them to engage – people cannot only ask their audience to “text, text, text” but instead ask them after teaching them about the issue.
2.  Also the campaign tailored its messaging to the individual needs of the 17 countries involved. Because a campaign like this is likely to involve NGOs, volunteers, and several for-profit companies, key stakeholders should be identified early on and their roles established. Although new, raising awareness about NCDs through the Get the Message campaign proved successful and hopefully reproducible in other parts of the world.

[adapted from Procor website)

In Part 2 of this post I will explore some topics relevant to health communications in the region which came out  of this meeting.

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