Empirically Proven Strategies for Health Campaigns

Nick Fewings from Unsplash

The healthcare space is a sector I am deeply passionate about, and it defines the scope of my research as a health communication scholar. Precisely, the burden of my research is to design and implement effective health communication strategies across all contexts, especially for underserved communities.

As I immerse myself in readings, I am exposed to diverse health issues and I have found that a major barrier to solving the problem is ignorance, especially in remote communities which can adversely impact behavioral change- an indicator of an effective health communication program.

If I am ignorant of the negative consequences of COVID-19, it would be difficult to change my behavior toward the health compliance precautions!

Hence, I strongly believe that one of the foundations of achieving an effective and efficient healthcare system is the eradication of “ignorance” through sensitization and education programs based on the health context and milieu. And one strategy to achieve this is via health campaigns.

The purpose of health campaigns is to “raise awareness of important health issues and stimulate groups or individuals to seek information and services.” When there is increased knowledge about an issue, individuals are empowered to make the right decisions such as changing their attitude (e.g., washing of hands regularly), seeking or verifying information, etc.

However, I have watched or listened to diverse health campaigns across different contexts and while I appreciate some efforts, I am dissatisfied with others. For instance, how can you deploy the same message design for all demographics? I saw this during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Text messages about COVID-19 precautions from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were entirely in English to the best of my knowledge. So, what about illiterates? Considering Nigeria’s ethnic diversity, I expected that messages would be disseminated in three major languages apart from English- Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo.

Now, considering the potency of health campaigns, in this article, I will explain briefly two proven strategies for creating successful health campaigns across all health contexts.

Before you begin to design your intervention, it is critical to first understand the cultural context of the people you are trying to reach or change their behavior. Benefactors are in the right position to tell you their problem and give suggestions on how you can help them solve the problem, i.e they should be treated as co-creators of the intervention.

I would say that power dynamics must be considered here because a participatory intervention such as this would require a bottom-up approach where all members of the team including the beneficiaries play a decisive role in the direction of the intervention.

When program managers make the intervention design to implementation participatory, recipients feel empowered, and changing their behavior would be achievable since they (recipients) were involved in the process all along.

Here is an example: A health organization discovered that a remote community is at risk of typhoid fever, the first step before creating any intervention or designing a health campaign message is to conduct a baseline study in the target community to understand why this disease is prevalent, their perception of the disease and how they think the issue can be solved. A focus group discussion with the community leaders, women groups, and other relevant organizations within this community would be suggested avenues to derive rich data.

Changing human behavior is a daunting task as we even saw during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember speaking with individuals while conducting a study in April 2022 who were still adamant about their belief that the disease is unreal!

We can go beyond the method of simply dispensing information about a health issue to adopting the storytelling approach to persuade and educate people about health matters. An author posited that humans are natural storytellers because their lives and identities are constructed in the process of telling stories. So, program managers can take advantage of this human disposition.

With narratives (stories), messages are created and presented in a personally relevant, meaningful, and ‘culture-centric’ approach since the stories used are by, for, and of the tellers and recipients of the health campaign.

Like my first point, in the narrative method for health intervention, the target audience is part of the message design to implementation which can also engender message proliferation.

And as the social learning theory posits, we learn by observing and imitating others. Adopting this approach has the propensity to provide individuals with a clear picture of their situation and where to begin to change their narrative.

In fact, one great way to do this is through drama or film (translational storytelling). Dry (a film about Vesicovaginal fistula condition and underaged marriage among young women) and “Story Story” (a radio drama by the BBC) are great examples of very successful health campaigns in Nigeria that adopted the storytelling approach.

In conclusion, health campaigns are very useful in changing the health behavior of individuals, but their success is dependent on the cooperation of and collaboration with recipients of the intervention from design to implementation.

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Abigail Oyinkan Olajire

A communication researcher with a keen interest in the media and developmental policies that has the propensity to spur growth.