The mHealth initiative called Get The Message Campaign aimed to educate, inform and advocate throughout the Caribbean region for the greater awareness on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and in support of the United Nations High Level Meeting (UNHLM) on NCDs, held September 2011, with the hope that the meeting would bring additional resources to the Caribbean for the prevention and treatments of these diseases. The Get The Message Campaign was developed by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition with support from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and other private and public institutions.
Building on the success of Get The Message, the Healthy Caribbean Coalition intends to continue to use the model of mobile phone advocacy as one of its pillars of strategically improving the awareness on NCDs throughout the region and intends to replicate this program outside of the English speaking region. It also intends to develop other models of mHealth advocacy to be launched in 2013 specifically aimed at cervical cancer.
The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC)
The HCC is a civil society network of NGOs throughout the Caribbean primarily focused on increasing the awareness of NCDs, namely, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and lung diseases. At present 60% of all deaths in the world are due to NCDs, worldwide statistics have shown that the Americas (inclusive of the Caribbean) is the region of the world that is most affected by chronic diseases.
The Get The Message Campaign
Using mobile phones, people from 17 Caribbean islands Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Antigua, Dominica, Haiti, BVI, Grenada, Anguilla, TCI, St. Kitts, Cayman showed their support for the fight against NCDs by texting the word “YES” for FREE to a designated shortcode as their “Vote of Support” for the campaign. This mobile phone advocacy was supported by an educational campaign on NCDs made available throughout the territories via traditional and new media.
Every day millions of people in the Caribbean use mobile phones as a tool for communication, information and education. The Healthy Caribbean Coalition developed strategic partnerships with the two main mobile companies within the Caribbean, (LIME and Digicel) to develop the mHealth Advocacy throughout the 17 territories. The mobile phone companies provided the designated shortcodes, ensured that the customers were not charged to send their SMS of support and provided the reports on the total number of messages of support that were sent to the designated shortcodes.
The mobile phone advocacy had a new media component. The number of “Likes” of the Get The Message Facebook page were also added to the compliment of SMS messages of support. The Facebook Page and Twitter account also served to inform and educate the public on NCDs and the UNHLM.
Traditional media still continues to serve as the main forum through which the people of the Caribbean receive information. A strategic partnership was developed with the main media networks in the Caribbean – One Caribbean Media which represents the largest spread of radio networks and newspapers in the region and Caribbean Broadcasting Union, which represents the largest compliment of television stations / broadcast network throughout the Caribbean to disseminate the radio, press and television advertisements that were produced, through funding by Sagicor Inc. (a major life/health insurance company in the region) and with the support of PAHO/WHO.
In September 2011, the HCC was pleased to report that it had received over 700,000 messages of support from the mobile phone subscribers.
Looking back, the HCC faced some initial obstacles to the launch of the mobile phone campaign. It was the first of its kind within the Caribbean and it took some negotiating with the two main and rival mobile phone companies to work on a campaign together. The HCC also had to overcome the delays in process of implementing the technical elements of the provisioning of the shortcodes by launching the Facebook page to keep momentum about the campaign.
When the shortcodes were activated it was not simultaneously done throughout the Caribbean, thus the start date of the campaign was staggered. In one island, Trinidad, implementation and authorization from local statutory boards to complete campaigns with their subscribers was problematic and we saw low subscription there.
The HCC set a target and with September nearing implemented a radio “Textathon” throughout the English speaking territories to drive the final total towards our goal. During the “Textathon” the radio DJs promoted the campaign and encouraged listeners to send the SMS of support. Volunteers from the HCC also conducted radio interviews throughout the day to add further support. In Haiti “Get The Message” rebranded in Kweole as “Di Tout Moun” was promoted via a branded “Di Tout Moun” mobile van with volunteers and loud speakers delivering the Di Tout Moun theme.
The HCC also engaged local partners. Sagicor supported the promotion of the campaign via their large staff compliment. They disseminated information to all of their staff throughout the region and the staff added links to our campaign to their email signatures.
During the months of our campaign Sagicor, LIME and Digicel sponsored large outdoor events including a regional cricket tournament and cultural initiatives and they promoted the campaign by showing stills of the Get The Message advertising on their large multimedia screens. Another campaign supporter, a supermarket chain in Barbados, Super Centre showed the stills of the Get The Message advertising in the supermarket at their checkout terminals and in store screens. A Barbadian soca artiste – Blood – provided a jingle for play on the radio to show his support for the campaign. The campaign advertising was also aired on the large multimedia screens prior to the commencement of the Rihanna concert in Barbados.
Documenting Experiences and Best Practices is part of PAHO/WHO's commitment to the member states, through the Strategy and Plan of Action on eHealth for the Americas, to make the eHealth Regional Laboratory a space of research, promotion and discussion of the objectives and strategies on the implementation of ICTs in public health, and to promote intersectoral cooperation between countries through an electronic mechanism for sharing best practices, lessons learned and regional resources.