Communicating health in the Caribbean : a manual for action
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[Preface]. Health communicators and decision-makers in the English-speaking Caribbean have come to recognise the relationship between health behaviours, for example, balanced eating, physical activity, mild consumption of (or abstinence from) alcohol, access to clean air and the prevention and control of various disorders. Health communication is integral to the prevention and control of the priority health issues facing Caribbean countries, including issues as diverse as noncommunicable diseases, substance abuse, vector control and HIV/AIDS. The growing recognition by health personnel of the role of communication interventions in targeting relevant behaviours is a welcome development. Health communication is defined as the crafting and delivery of messages and strategies based on target audience research to promote the health of individuals and communities. Methods draw on marketing and communication techniques used so successfully in commercial advertising of products, many of which are harmful to health, borrowing from these methods in an attempt to alter popular consumption patterns and promote healthy alternatives. The terms social marketing and social communication are labels for this process. Traditionally, Caribbean health planners and decision-makers based their communication strategies on the dissemination of health messages mainly through mass media channels to heterogeneous audiences. The underlying assumption was that because our messages were inherently good, those whom we wished to target would be willing recipients once we succeeded in reaching them. Mass media channels were often the preferred routes of dissemination. For many years health communicators assessed the success of such strategies by the extent of their information coverage, or numbers of people reached, and the quality of the design of messages. The cuter and glitzier communicators perceived designs to be, the more favourably assessed were the strategies. However, despite the design of several creative health communication initiatives for behaviour change in the Caribbean, the results are not impressive. Breastfeeding rates in most countries have not improved, the prevalence of smoking and other lifestyle-related chronic disease risk factors such as obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary habits have not, in general, decreased, and women have failed to utilise Pap smears, iron supplementation tablets, and other health centre resources as they should. Health communicators began to re-assess their strategies...
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