Communication and marketing strategies have played crucial roles in achieving major progress against malaria, with the tangible symbol of the insecticide-treated bed net providing a powerful marketing tools, such as – “$10 buys a net and saves a life.”
There’s an African proverb – ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Tackling emerging diseases also takes a global village.
For the last several years, Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist and physician by training, has been focused on a pursuit to use the power of genomic science and research partnerships forged at the individual level to head off emerging diseases before they become global pandemics. Sabeti, an Associate Professor at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, divides her time between her laboratory at Harvard and field sites in Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Her research focuses on using medical and evolutionary genetics to better understand the origins of acquired traits as well as to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In addition to her work on emerging diseases, such as Lassa fever, Sabeti is interested in studying genetic variation in malaria parasite populations to help expand our understanding of basic parasite biology by tracking parasites as they evolve in response to various interventions.
While advancing scientific discoveries, Sabeti and her colleagues have also witnessed the positive effects of empowering local populations in the areas where they conduct research. By providing diagnostics and treatments to patients taking part in research studies, whole communities have become engaged as physicians combat infectious diseases that continue to present huge health burdens in regions across Africa. Her research is a real-world example of the power of science in bringing people together toward a common goal.
In 2013, Professor Sabeti was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, an award that is given to young visionaries and trailblazers, who are making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration. Watch her talk about her efforts in a video from the National Geographic Live! series.
Mobilizing mass communications is an essential component of behavior change campaigns. Radical transformations in the media marketplace have resulted in dramatic changes to the world of health communication presenting new challenges and opportunities for malaria control and prevention efforts. Professor Jay Winsten, Associate Dean and Director of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is best known for his work in social marketing, spearheading high-profile campaigns on designated driver, youth violence, youth mentoring and malaria. Winsten was the driving force behind the Harvard Alcohol Project, which popularized the social concept of the “designated driver” in the United States starting in the late 1980s, and is credited for contributing to a 25% decline in drunk driving traffic fatalities, demonstrating how marketing can play a powerful role in public health.
In addition to his academic role, Dr. Winsten also served as a Senior Communications Advisor to the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria on the ambitious international effort to sharply reduce malaria-related deaths in Africa by 2105.
In a recent post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog, Dr. Winsten discusses the hazardous road ahead in fighting disease as the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals draws closer.
Jane Nelson is Director of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a senior associate of the Programme for Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University. She was a Director at the International Business Leaders Forum from 1993 to 2009. In 2001, she worked with the United Nations Global Compact in the office of the UN Secretary-General preparing a report for the General Assembly on cooperation between the UN and the private sector.
Prior to 1993, Nelson worked for the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Africa, for FUNDES in Latin America, and as a Vice President at Citibank working for the bank’s Financial Institutions Group in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. She has co-authored five books and over 70 publications on the role of business in society, as well as five of the World Economic Forum’s Global Corporate Citizenship reports. Nelson serves on the boards of Newmont Mining Corporation, FSG, the World Environment Center, the ImagineNations Group, and the Niger Delta Partnership Initiative, and on advisory councils for the Initiative for Global Development, Clinton Global Initiative, Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, ExxonMobil, GE, Abbott and the Abraaj Group. She earned a BSc. degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Natal in South Africa and an MA from Oxford University, and is a former Rhodes Scholar and recipient of the Keystone Center’s 2005 Leadership in Education Award.
Despite significant progress over the past 10 years, a real risk of triumphalism and donor fatigue exists as funders struggle to raise money in a difficult economic environment and the public mistakenly assumes that the work is done. Misperceptions in endemic countries, from the most senior leaders to the malaria patients themselves, may also contribute to the ineffective deployment and utilization of the existing toolkit. It is essential to sustain momentum and maintain malaria as a key item in the global and local policy agendas.
The communications and advocacy efforts of the Defeating Malaria effort are focused on the following near-term priorities:
- Mobilizing the power of mass communications to empower individuals to adopt behaviors that foster control and elimination of malaria;
- Directing policy makers’ attention to important issues regarding malaria, and frame those issues for public debate and resolution;
- Preparing current and future leaders to utilize communication strategies effectively to promote malaria control through behavior change and policy implementation;
- Strengthening communications between health professionals and journalists to ensure that the public understands the current state of malaria interventions; and
- Keeping malaria at the forefront of the policy and public agendas.
On April 25, 2014, Harvard commemorated World Malaria Day with a student-led event called Mob Malaria. Mob Malaria was a global, student-run project to raise awareness of malaria and its eradication efforts through fun. On World Malaria Day, students and community members in Cambridge (USA), Changsha (China), and Harare (Zimbabwe) took part in an audio-guided flash mob. Read more about Mob Malaria.
Mobilizing Harvard to Defeat Malaria
Harvard Malaria Competition
To harness the creativity, influence, and reach of the Harvard community, the Defeating Malaria initiative and partners at the MCJ/Amelior Foundation have launched a university-wide Harvard Malaria Competition. The competition invites students to develop ways to spark vibrant conversations on campus to both increase awareness about the disease and engage Harvard faculty, students, alumni, and supporters. The competition presents an excellent opportunity for students with a passion for problem solving, innovation, global health, and social responsibility to generate new ideas to address the global problem of malaria.
2015-16 Harvard Malaria Competition winners aimed to raise awareness by using social media, leveraging existing excitement on college campuses across the U.S., and giving the Harvard community, and students around the country, easy access to exciting information on malaria and simple ways to share information and spread the word.
Malaria Assassins is a novel advocacy campaign led by Harvard College students to raise awareness of malaria by pairing the enthusiasm of college students with the popular game ‘Assassins.‘ This interactive, live-action game is played across college campuses every year, and was paired with the imperative to address malaria when it was played at Harvard College. Students had the opportunity to learn about the latest progress towards malaria eradication and spread awareness – all while vying for the top spot in the game.
Harvard College undergraduates Andrew Chang, Bianca Mulaney, Brendan Eappen, Amna Hashmi, Pranay Nadella, and Willy Xiao also leveraged the excitement about the Malaria Assassins game by launching a social media malaria awareness campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
Smile, Share, and Be Aware: A World Malaria Day Campaign
Harvard College sophomore, Ava Violich, led an innovative and interactive malaria campaign called, “Smile, Share, and Be Aware,” to spread information on malaria and inspire action in the fight against this global disease. This photo booth campaign captured fun shots of students, faculty, and members of the Harvard community on World Malaria Day; the campaign enabled many to learn more about malaria and how to end malaria for good. Participants that attended the global movement to eradicate malaria in Harvard Yard shared their shots on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (and kept photo-strips as a keepsake!).
Share your ideas
Researchers, medical professionals and policymakers are responsible for communicating facts and findings to the general public. Translating data into evidence-based communication enables the creation of knowledge and strengthens the foundation for effective decision-making and advocacy. Many tools exist to synthesize and disseminate data-driven knowledge. For example, Work the World uses an infographic, a powerful visual communication tool, to describe How We Could Have a World Without Malaria.
Defeating Malaria wants to hear your ideas, suggestions and examples of ways of mobilizing the power of mass communications to effectively share evidence-based knowledge. We want to learn of new ways of translating data into useful resources, connecting people to an important cause and galvanizing a robust public reaction.
Connect with us on Twitter (@HarvardMalaria), and share your ideas!
Share Your Ideas and Make a Difference
As part of an innovative $10K student competition to increase campus-wide awareness and discussion about the problem of global malaria, the Mobilizing for Global Health Seminar Series aims to inspire students to take purposeful action to fight malaria. This first event in the series discussed how malaria is making innovative use of mobile technology in ways that have the potential to revolutionize the fight against disease in the developing world. Speakers included Martin Edlund from Malaria No More, Iqram Magdom-Ismail from Venmo, and Ashifi Gogo from Sproxil.
Mobilizing for Global Health Seminar Series
The Mobilizing for Global Health Seminar Series, sponsored by Harvard’s Defeating Malaria initiative, introduces students to speakers working at the forefront of the fight against global malaria. Similar to other global health challenges, solving the problem of malaria will require a multidisciplinary approach. No single set of skills or field of expertise can solve the problem alone. The Mobilizing for Global Health Seminar Series inspires students to take purposeful action to fight malaria.
Past speakers included Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More; Iqram Magdon-Ismail, Co-Founder of Venmo, a social payment space inspiring radical change in the way people engage in charity and global causes; and Ashifi Gogo, CEO of Sproxil, a company developing counterfeit protection technology that allows consumers to protect themselves from fake and stolen goods, including fake anti-malarial drugs. The “Making Malaria the First Disease Beaten by Mobile,” demonstrated innovative ways mobile technology can be applied to revolutionize major global health problems in the developing world.
A second seminar featured Rich Mintz, Executive Vice President, of Blue State Digital, the media and technology strategy firm responsible for the digital technology strategy for Obama’s presidential campaigns. Together with Caroline Buckee, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, whose research focuses on mining cell phone data to track how people’s movements correlate with the spread of disease, Rich discussed the Power of Breakthrough Ideas in Solving Global Health Challenges, including the innovative use of technology, strategies for engagement and advocacy for action.
Creating New Behavior Change Initiatives
Professor Jay Winsten, Associate Dean and Director of the Center for Health Communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is engaging faculty and students to focus on synthesizing and disseminating available knowledge on behavior change communication, and creating and evaluating new behavior change initiatives. One activity under way that could have a substantial impact in Sub-Saharan Africa is a “designated driver”-like campaign to promote the consistent use of bed nets.
According to estimates, each 1 percent increase in consistent use of bed nets will save an additional 21,000 lives a year. The African film industry (“Nollywood”) has experienced explosive growth since the 1990s, and its movies now are widely distributed on DVDs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa reaching even the most isolated rural villages.
Mobilizing Nollywood’s top movie producers and directors as partners in malaria prevention could help to strengthen the adoption of malaria control interventions, just as Harvard’s partnership with Hollywood succeeded against drunken driving.
The idea is to tap the power of narrative story-telling by creating moments in which the dramatic action in a movie is temporarily paused as a character checks to make sure that children in the household are sleeping under their bed nets.
Efforts like this have the potential to make a fundamental change in cultural attitudes, and can result in strikingly better outcomes for society. The University also will pursue efforts to strengthen policy advocacy on behalf of, and in collaboration with, the international malaria community.
Similar to other innovative communication strategies – such as, Alienation Digital’s recently unveiled new site that tells the story of malaria and its effects in comic-book form (“The Battle Against a Microscopic Killer“), a new HBO film about two women’s personal experiences with malaria, “Mary and Martha,” and the Dutch Malaria Foundation’s “Fake Malaria Drugs Kill” petition against the trade of fake drugs in Africa- the creation of new communications and advocacy tools are essential to sustain momentum and maintain malaria as a key item in the global and local policy agendas.