How effective are public health campaigns?

Last week, the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF) a non-governmental organisation, organised a one-day campaign where healthcare students and professionals made a community drive that aimed at reaching out to people in underprivileged ad remote areas in Kigali.

This was done to tackle different health issues with a focus on HIV/AIDS and non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), and hence involved medical counselling and screening activities to improve healthcare delivery.

People also benefited from the basic medical information that was given on a vast range of topics such as nutrition, mental health and they were also encouraged to have medical insurance (Mutuelle de sante).

Health campaigns are largely aimed at increasing awareness on health issues. Their role in health care involves engagement especially with the dissemination of relevant and influential health information to the respective groups of people- information that would facilitate them lead healthy lives.

Why are such campaigns important?

According to Dr Simon Niyonsenga, director of Diabetes and other metabolic diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Center, during such events, the ministry of health normally takes the opportunity to carry out different activities that in most in cases include testing and screening people for different diseases but mostly non-communicable diseases.

Prosper Dusengeyezu, a public health officer at Rwanda Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (RPSA, one of the organisers of last week’s campaign) says people get access to information that saves their lives.

For instance with the recent campaign, he says people were educated on chronic diseases like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes among others.

Over 200 participants were served in this particular public health campaign. Condoms were as well disseminated to the public with the accompaniment of the education about HIV/AIDS.

The emphasis is always on prevention of NCDs mainly because ailments such as diabetes, cancers, high blood pressure among others, are not curable.

Basically the importance of conducting such events is to raise awareness on how people can prevent NCDs, educate those at risk as well as finding a way forward in case one has one of the diseases, Niyonsenga says.

He explains that the reason as to why they focus on prevention and early detection is that if one is detected at an early stage, treatment can work unlike when the conditions are detected at an advanced stage.

Data from RBC indicates that in 2014, the prevalence of diabetes was at 3 percent, hypertension was at 15.9 percent, while for cancer there were almost 11,000 people that were seeking care in different hospitals across the country.

According to Niyonsenga, non-communicable diseases are caused by certain risk factors such as smoking, obesity which is linked to unhealthy eating, lack of physical exercises and excessive consumption of alcohol.

“Whenever we treat people, we always emphasise on avoiding these risk factors, and it’s easy for one to adopt a healthy lifestyle to prevent such risk factors,” he says.

He adds that the advantage that comes with taking part in these campaigns is that if one’s results are not good or abnormal, they are referred to health facilities for further diagnosis, and management.

More needs to be done

With varying reasons, a number of people still shun public health campaigns and hence few people tend to take part in such activities.

This calls for more intervention to eliminate instances of deaths that would otherwise have been preventable.

Dr Edison Rwagasore, senior officer -diabetes, chronic diseases, and other metabolic diseases at RBC says despite the efforts being made by the Ministry of health, there are still some challenges prevailing where by medics still see cases of people come for treatment late, where nothing much can be done.

“There are few people showing up for check-ups and screening. This is due to the fact that when people don’t experience any pain or are not sick, they ignore going for any medical check-up. This in the long run will see them seek medical attention when they are in advanced stage because these conditions are normally progressive thus take time for one to know they are having them,” he explains.

An article published at shows that promoting public health and preventing the spread of dangerous health risks is an integral communication function in modern society.

Whether the focus is on the prevention and control of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), cancer, heart disease, or community violence, a fusion of theory and practice in communication is urgently needed to guide effective promotion efforts.

Campaigns are designed to influence public knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours, yet achieving these goals and influencing the public is no simple matter.

A primary goal of the campaign is to influence the way the audience thinks about the health threat. If the target audience already believes this issue is very serious and of great relevance to their lives, this will lead the campaign planner to craft messages that will support these preconceptions. If, on the other hand, members of the target audience barely recognise the health threat and are not at all concerned about it, the campaign planner must design communication strategies that will raise the audience’s consciousness and concern about the topic.

Generally, campaign planners want to convince target audiences to recognise and take the identified health threat seriously. They want to influence the audience’s beliefs, values, and attitudes about the issue to support the goals of the campaign. Only after a communication campaign raises audience consciousness and concern about the threat can it begin to influence (or persuade) the target audience to adopt specific recommendations for resisting and treating the identified health threat. The communication strategies used to raise consciousness and the strategies used to motivate action may be quite different.

Because effective use of communication channels is so important to the success of public health campaigns, research related to health communication can perform a central role in the development of an effective campaign.

Such research helps campaign planners to identify consumer needs and orientations; target specific audiences; evaluate audience message behaviours; field test messages; guide message conceptualisation and development; identify communication channels that have high audience reach, specificity, and influence; monitor the progress of campaign messages; and evaluate the overall effects of the campaign on target audiences and public health.

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