In my journey spanning close to two decades in strategic communication, I have witnessed first-hand the transformative power of effective health communication. It has been an incredible voyage, one that has taken me to diverse corners of the globe, and into the lives of countless individuals and communities.
Throughout this odyssey, I have come to a realisation that communication plays a vital element in every aspect of our lives. It’s difficult to think of a way in which communication doesn’t affect an organisation. From day-to-day discussions with colleagues to coaching employees and liaising with your customer or client base, effective communication is a universal necessity for business success, across industries.
In the health sector in particular, health communication is not just a peripheral aspect of healthcare programmes; it is the very heartbeat.
The evolution and innovation in the field of health communication have been nothing short of remarkable, proving time and again that a well-crafted message, delivered at the right time and through the right channels, to the relevant target audience, cannot only save lives but also pave the way for healthier communities.
Unfortunately, most organisations still tend to approach communications as an afterthought, while, in my experience, the role it plays in advancing health programmes has positioned it as a powerful tool for disseminating information, influencing behaviours, and shaping the success of public health initiatives.
Unbeknownst to many, there are several benefits associated with empowering communities with health information. Most health interventions fail because of the lack of investments and clear thought processes around communication and advocacy.
Health communication serves as an avenue through which timely and accurate information is delivered, offering communities an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the message delivered and in the long run, make better decisions about their lifestyles.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the most important factor in preventing the spread of the virus was empowering and equipping people with the right information to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Additionally, during times of crises or emergencies like disease outbreaks or natural disasters, the dissemination of clear and timely communication is essential to inform the public about risks, protective measures, and actions to take thus preventing panic and facilitating coordinated responses.
Every so often, a number of campaigns are disseminated whether it’s a campaign to help communities combat malaria, a campaign promoting hand washing, a campaign on menstrual hygiene- you name it. The effectiveness of behaviour change campaigns like these can only be evaluated based on which channel of communication was utilized, what format was used, what language was used, and what times these messages were disseminated among other considerations.
It irks me when organisations churn out messaging without a clear strategy. While several health programs aim to encourage individuals and communities to adopt healthier behaviours, effective health communication strategies help inform, motivate, and persuade people to make positive changes.
Health communication is an empowerment tool that is used to provide communities with comprehensive and understandable health information, while at the same time equipping them to make informed decisions about their health.
Informed individuals are more likely to seek healthcare, comply with medical advice, and engage in preventive practices. Like its often said, information is power.
Largely, the reduction of health disparities has been attributed to effective communication which has played a significant role in reaching out to the underserved or marginalized communities. This is achieved through crafting carefully tailored messages and strategies targeted at specific cultural, linguistic, and social contexts.
Through this, there has been a considerable bridging of gaps in the pursuit of access to universal healthcare and attendant knowledge.
With recurrent budget and policy deficits, effective health communication efforts can play a critical role in mobilising public support to advance health policy changes and in turn advocate for additional resource allocation especially toward public health initiatives.
It goes a long way in fostering collaboration among different stakeholders for effective policy interventions.
Finally, feedback and continued dialogue are facilitated through consistent message distribution. Health communication therefore enables a two-way communication framework that encourages regular feedback and an opportunity for improvement during the implementation of future health campaigns and programming.
It is evident that for any health program to thrive, it must recognize and embrace the transformative role communication plays in its success]. Communication is not a good to have; it’s a must-have for any organisation that is serious about ensuring its stakeholders are healthier, more informed, and empowered.
The writer is the Communications and Engagement Director-WomenLift Health
This article was first published on businessdailyafrica.com.