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.

Caricom developing risk communication alert system for non-food, non-pharma goods

Seminar on developing a Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Consumer Goods within CARICOM, Barbados, 1 November 2011

One of the growing areas of within the spectrum of health communication is risk communication. The World Health Organization defines risk communication as “an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion on risk among risk assessors, risk managers, and other interested parties. Risk communication is an integral and ongoing part of the risk analysis exercise, and ideally all stakeholder groups should be involved from the start.”

This past week, Caricom officials took another step towards effective communication when they came together for a seminar aimed at developing a Rapid Alert System for Dangerous Consumer Goods within the region. According the the Secretariat,

“[t]he training is part of a consultancy which focuses on the development of a comprehensive framework, including a computer based platform for the administration of a regional information exchange and response system. It is aimed at strengthening Member States’ market surveillance capabilities in the respect of non-food, non pharmaceuticals which pose a serious risk to consumers’ health and safety.”

I am very interested in seeing how this develops. My hope is that they employ the full range of mediated channels within this process. People across the region engage extensively with text messaging, and young people are very active on social networking sites. In most, if not all Caricom countries, traditional media such radio and television are the main sources to receive health and risk information. But, as more people move away from such channels, we need to consider the places they shift to.

Interestingly, I did not see or hear any discussions of the role of the newly formed regional public health agency. I saw mention of the CSME Unit. If anyone knows how (or if) CARPHA is involved, it would be nice to know.

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He is the current Assistant Secretary-General for Trade and Economic Integration at the CARICOM Secretariat, having served in that post since September 2005, a release from the Secretariat said. He replaces Sir Edwin Carrington of Trinidad and Tobago.

Secretary-General-designate LaRocque, 56, in his reaction expressed his deep appreciation for the confidence reposed in him by the Heads of Government.

“I am humbled and privileged for this opportunity to continue my service to the Governments and people of the Caribbean Community. As we strive towards the goal of a Community For All, the confidence of the Heads of Government, the support of the people of the Community and the committed staff of the CARICOM Secretariat are vital in achieving that objective.”

During his tenure, he will oversee the continued push for a comprehensive regional public health agency and will guide Caricom countries into implementing better health policies for their citizens and other residents of the countries.

Source: http://www.caricom.org/jsp/pressreleases/press_releases_2011/pres289_11.jsp

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This past weekend, CARICOM members held the 32nd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in St. Kitts and Nevis. Regarding health, nothing new came out of the meeting, but here’s a quick recap, courtesy of Caricom’s Communique:

  • Heads of Government noted the progress made in the sector across the Community over the past ten years to improve the health and well-being of the people and to contribute to economic development of the Region.
  • Heads of Government welcomed the entry into force of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA), establishing the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) which will have its Headquarters in Trinidad and Tobago. CARPHA is intended to advance the realization, embodied in the Nassau Declaration signed ten years ago (2001): the Health of the Region is the Wealth of the Region. In this regard, it is expected to highlight the opportunity costs of pursuing public health functions in a consolidated way, rather than as disparate entities, as existed until now, that duplicate efforts and dilute the public health objectives for which they were designed.
  • Heads of Government lauded the contribution of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP), which has earned the accolade of an international best practice by the UN in the fight against the disease and noted with satisfaction its achievements as the partnership celebrated this year, the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the PANCAP Commitment.
  • Heads of Government applauded the positive contribution of the Community led by PANCAP at the recent UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. They noted that among the major Caribbean regional commitments contained in the outcome document were the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, reducing AIDS-related maternal deaths by 2015 and the need to ensure that financial resources for prevention are targeted to evidence-based prevention measures.
  • Heads of Government welcomed the significant role being played by the Community in advocacy and preparation for the UN High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) scheduled for UN Headquarters, New York, USA 19-20 September 2011.
As I said before, nothing sexy here, just business.