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


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.

Communications for change: How to use text messaging as an effective behavior change campaigning tool

Produced by FrontlineSMS and Text to Change – February 2012

Available online at: 

SMS can be an extremely effective campaigning tool, helping to drive positive social change by increasing awareness of key issues and giving people the information they need to take their well- being into their own hands. SMS is ideal for these types of campaigns in many ways: it is immediate and intimate, coming straight to a device you carry with you most of the time. It works even in places where other digital communications channels fail; and, if received at the right time, it can provide an incredibly meaningful intervention. 

SMS can also be sent to many people at once, using aggregators and other service providers

However, getting SMS campaigns right is not simple. The right content, delivered at the right time in the right context, is critical. Adding the right kind of interaction to campaigns can make them more engaging, and increase their power in encouraging positive change. 

Case Study: –FrontlineSMS and Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health

FrontlineSMS, an open source software for sending and receiving SMS (short message service), to provide a rapid prototype of a new mHealth service.

This service — called CycleTel™ — empowers women by providing them with accessible reproductive health information through SMS. CycleTel facilitates the use of the Standard Days Method® (SDM) of family planning, which is a simple fertility awareness-based method of family planning that teaches a woman to identify her fertile days each menstrual cycle and avoid unprotected sex on these days to prevent pregnancy.

By making this fertility information accessible via SMS, CycleTel helps women take charge of their reproductive health and use an effective family planning method. 

Text to Change
Text to Change sets up interactive SMS campaigns, together with NGOs and companies, focused on improving healthcare and education, stimulating economic development and creating awareness on environmental issues. Moreover, all basic phones are able to receive SMS.
To overcome the illiteracy barriers they make use of Interactive Voice Response services (IVR) as well.

• Text to Change:

• FrontlineSMS: 

Assessing the mobile environment:

Factors affecting the suitability of SMS and mobile for communicating with disaster-affected communities 


Embedded health messages on TV shows

I’m watching a recap of last night’s Desperate Housewives and in one scene towards the end, Gabby tells her therapist that her reason for wanting to protect children is because she was molested by her stepfather. This story-line reminded me of two things. One, just today the principal investigator on one of my projects said she became interested in how to use the media in public health campaigns with wanting to be part of a team that places health messages in TV shows. The second, is that there is a group of people working on doing just that. The scene definitely reminded me of the work of The Normal Lear Center at the University of Southern California my (my alma mater) and specifically Hollywood Health & Society.

HHS often works with CDC experts to give accurate health information to television producers and others in the media and entertainment industry for use within their plots lines. In a conversation last year with HHS director Sandra de Castro Buffington, she stressed that HHS does not tell writers what to say, rather, they encourage them to include as accurate as possible any information on the topics. After all, many studies have shown that American consumers gather a lot of their health information from scripted shows. Past CDC and HHS studies have involved working with daytime soap operas on HIV and prime time television shows to highlight childhood obesity.

And, last year for my master’s thesis, I analyzed a TLC show called “One Big Happy Family” which profiled an African American family with obesity and their attempts at making a change. Now, not many African Americans saw the program to begin with, despite TLC’s claim that it attracts large audiences from that genre. Despite the low outreach, those who saw the program showed efficacy in wanting to change their behavior.

Like with many topics, I usually ask, what does this mean for the Caribbean. As we get more integrated economically, we should also consider the impact of such integration on public health (another post entirely). But, an organization, working regionally, who makes part of its mission to deliver credible and accurate information and data to writers, producers and others in the media and entertainment industry is sorely needed. With the growing influence of Caribbean theatre and rising movie industry in Jamaica and Trinidad, as well as local shows in many islands, it would be wise to make sure that the public gets the most exact and non-judgmental information. Whether it is on dengue fever or HIV/AIDS, child abuse or teen pregnancy, if we are to tackle any public health issue with credibility within the arts and entertainment industry across the region, we need to provide people with all that is needed. This, after all, is entertainment education.



OECS HAPU calls for enhanced strategies to attract persons living with HIV/AIDS for Treatment.

Head of the OECS Secretariat’s HIV AIDS Project Unit (OECS HAPU), Dr. James St. Catherine, says the Unit’s service to OECS Member States in tackling HIV and AIDS has yielded successes in many areas.

However he adds that there is still significant room for improvement in aspects such as getting people to know their HIV status, treatment compliance, capacity to monitoring the safety and effectiveness of treatment, and the human resource and infrastructural support for dealing with cases of HIV and AIDS.

via OECS HAPU calls for enhanced strategies to attract persons living with HIV/AIDS for Treatment..