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.

Can regulating our airwaves help lower NCD rates?

Coutesy of blogs.worldbank.org

The carnival season just ended for many islands  (and is beginning for others) and one of the things that struck me while listening to radio stations from Dominica is the number of advertisements for businesses pushing high-saturated fat foods and alcoholic drinks. Now, I have to say that these ads are not just a carnival phenomenon. In fact, I think they’ve become quite prevalent on our airwaves. For example, one show might be sponsored by a large distributor of alcoholic beverages. Usually within such shows, the hosts painstakingly tells listeners to ‘drink safely’ and ‘don’t drink and drive’. What I noticed about these messages is that they are often said in somber tones while the music pumps up for a lively discussion of how such and such drink is the best to have while out and about. In regards to the food ads with high-fat content, they are often lauded as quick meals to have on-the-go. Grab a pizza! Get yourself some tasty fired chicken!

These commercials reminded me of a fabulous blog I read a few months ago titled “Is fried chicken setting back development in the Caribbean?” In the write-up, Carmen and Shiyan discuss how, in trying to decide what to eat for lunch (fried chicken because it’s ubiquitous, low-cost and fast), they realized the irony of working on addressing non-communicable diseases in the region and having to swallow their guilt and eat the fried chicken for lunch.

Carmen and Shiyan write:

“This simple encounter brought to light the challenges countries and individuals face in addressing NCDs which as a group represent the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide –two-thirds of global deaths are the result of chronic diseases. In the Caribbean, the burden of NCDs has escalated to the point that five times as many people are dying from chronic diseases than from all other illnesses combined.”

As we in the region and organizations around the world fight to change the course of the burden of NCDs, we have to start thinking of what role, if any, does advertising play in our food and alcohol consumption choices? Are there any regional or national policies that regulate what companies can advertise and at what times? The regulation of food, alcohol ( and tobacco) is never an easy task. But, research shows that local and global policies developed to regular tobacco sales and use has had the greatest impact on lowering smoking rates. If anyone has examples of laws and policies from the region that address these issues, we at CaribbeanHealth.org would love to know about them.

 

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Here’s the agenda for the Global Health Council’s Communications working group meeting:

1:00    Welcome and Introductions
1:10    Get the Message – A Caribbean Text Message    Advocacy Campaign
Soren Nielsen, Communications Consultant,Get the Message Campaign
Lessons learned, challenges and results from an NCD-awareness campaign that led to 500,000 text messages across the Caribbean

1:50    New Media Working Group

2:05    Discussion: The Working Group moving forward

Global Health Council
1111 19th St NW, Suite 1120
Washington, DC

And to learn more about the campaign, visit https://caribbeanhealth.org/2011/03/25/get-the-message-support-healthy-caribbean-coalitions-mission-on-cncds/

 

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Today, I got word that Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith from Yale University was awarded more than $5 million from the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities (National Institute of Health) grant to study the risk factors and prevalence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in the eastern Caribbean.

This news made me smile. Part of why I am happy about projects such as these is because they are the basis for much health communication and social marketing interventions. We have to understand the risk factors for certain diseases if we are to effectively address them in our community. This is great news for the advancement of public health research across the region! (And at this point, I have to give a nod to Soroya to keep going. Many in my family still don’t understand what I do, but I have to remind myself to keep at it.)

As someone who aspires to be a health communication researcher, I can envision myself working with Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network (ECHORN) started by the grant to address health outcomes across the region. This grant creates a collaboration between Yale University, The University of the Virgin Islands (my alma matter), The University of Puerto Rico and the University of the West Indies. News like these makes me think that ‘oh, I can do a postdoc there’.

Source: Yale Daily Bulletin