Branding the Disease – The importance of successful PR campaigns in Public Health

Once public health experts agree on the most important public health interventions, how do they then generate government attention, public support, and financial resources for that intervention? The Disease Control Priorities Project was launched in 2001 as an effort to identify the specific policy changes and intervention strategies that would be most beneficial for countries in need.  But what is the next step after the burden of disease is identified?

In this week’s reading, Jeremy Shiffman analyzes how branding and positioning of a disease can generate the necessary funding and public resources.  His article, A social explanation for the rise and fall of global health issues, examines why strategic communication is a fundamental issue in global health policy.  Shiffman claims that the way a disease is framed has a significant effect on the amount of government and public attention it receives, and the success of subsequent fundraising efforts.

As a former Public Relations professional, I agree with Shiffman that ‘disease-branding’ is a necessary part of solving global public health problems.  Just look at the massive success of public relations campaigns surrounding first-world diseases, specifically cancer in the United States.

One example of successful ‘branding’ of a disease can be found in Lance Armstrong’s “Livestrong” campaign which began in 1997.  The campaign put a face, color, logo, and story behind cancer.  People everywhere wore yellow bracelets to show that they cared about cancer and supported the fight against it.  livestrongCould you picture Americans wearing rubber bracelets in support of third-world diseases such as pneumonia?  Or maybe diarrhea?  What color would we choose to represent the cause?  Would you run in a 5k to fight dehydration as a result of diarrhea?  But why not when according to the DCP, addressing these conditions could substantially reduce the 6 million preventable deaths of children under five that occur each year?

While Armstrong’s Livestrong campaign has yet to find a cure for cancer, he makes it easier to talk about it and generate the proper funding and attention for research and treatment development.  Global health organizations must think in terms of strategic communication and effective public relations if they are to bring political, financial and public attention to global health priorities.

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One response to “Branding the Disease – The importance of successful PR campaigns in Public Health

  1. In my opinion, the matters that get the publicity and attention are the ones that hit us close to home like SARS, Swine Flu, and cancer. Pneumonia and Diarrhea are the leading cause of mortality in children but not in the developed world. These are non-threatening conditions to the West. So a Diarrhea or Pneumonia Bracelet is very unlikely.

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