Raising awareness is a critical first step of embarking on a public health campaign, but why? Without awareness people can be misinformed, misled, or even completely unaware of the health challenges they face.
Uncorrected vision is a condition that affects 2.5 billion people worldwide and yet many remain unaware they can do something about it. If individuals don’t know there is a solution available to them, it is likely that the friends, families around them, and the communities they live in also won’t be aware.
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This is particularly true in base of pyramid, or BoP, communities that represent 90% of people living with uncorrected poor vision, according to the World Health Organization. It is a significantly underserved population that is difficult to reach, where there is little or no information available on the condition, and no existing vision care services to undertake a simple eye test or provide a pair of glasses.
Building awareness of public health issues is about sending impactful messages out into communities to grab attention and get people talking about the issue. This will then drive word of mouth conversations, increase demand for action, and encourage more people to access services.
Awareness campaigns can take many forms depending on the issue you are raising and the audiences you are targeting. Hard-hitting and emotional facts, statistics, and personal case studies are all important in getting your message across and today we have more channels than ever to engage with people on both a personal and collective level. Mobile phones, messaging apps, traditional newspaper advertisements, radio, and word-of-mouth are all important ways to make sure everyone hears about eye health.
How to create a successful campaign
1. Use ambassadors to amplify your message
Sometimes having a powerful messenger can help amplify awareness. Bollywood legend Shri Amitabh Bachchan was recently announced as the new ambassador for See Now, a global campaign created by the Fred Hollows Foundation to increase awareness and drive public mobilization on ending avoidable blindness and vision impairment. Under the foundation's See Now campaign, which launched in Uttar Pradesh in India in 2019, Bachchan shares an urgent yet simple message for tens of millions of Indians: go and get your eyes checked.
Bachchan was chosen as the public face of the campaign, not just because of his enormous public appeal, but because of his previous work in health and reputation for pushing people to access health services. He is also a proud wearer of glasses and hopes that this will encourage others to wear glasses without any stigma — something that can still be a barrier to people seeking treatment.
2. Keep the campaign messaging simple and consistent
Simplicity is key, particularly in BoP communities where word of mouth as a communications channel is more relied upon given access to online or mobile channels may be limited. You are also more likely to be communicating with different age groups and education levels so communication should be clear, concise, and presented in a way that won’t overwhelm or confuse your audience.
Data that is not essential can overcomplicate the message and make it impossible for people to remember or to act upon. Lifebuoy soap’s campaigns are a great example of simplicity and impact. Its “Help a Child Reach 5” call to action has saved millions of lives by clearly communicating the importance of handwashing with soap in reducing child mortality rates.
“It is so important that all of us working in the vision space think about the most effective ways of raising awareness around the importance of eye health, educating people — particularly those most in need — on why it is important to address the problem and where they can get help.”—
3. Repetition is no bad thing
It can take an audience multiple times to retain and act upon a message. Consistency is needed to ensure the main objective for awareness raising in public health — behavior change — is achieved. In eye health, this means regular eye checks.
It is important to ensure messaging serves two purposes: raising general awareness and driving people directly to services. It’s why the See Now campaign has used a combination of traditional advertising techniques in combination with tactical grassroots media, such as billboards, and local language newspapers. Local community leaders and a network of women primary health workers also took the message to local communities, helping to address misconceptions and build trust in service delivery.
See Now is a global campaign created by the Fred Hollows Foundation to increase awareness and drive public mobilization on ending avoidable blindness and vision impairment. A core approach of See Now is to collaborate with existing eye health organizations to elevate and amplify the stories of their work.
In addition to the U.S., the campaign includes an awareness effort in India. The campaign — part of the global See Now movement — is supported by the Fred Hollows Foundation, Vision for Life, Essilor Vision Foundation, Sightsavers India, and VISION 2020 INDIA among others.
4. Be open to new technologies and new ways of working
Digital communication and messaging platforms were also effectively deployed as part of the See Now campaign to ensure that people in the targeted districts received messages directly to their mobile devices encouraging them to get their eyes checked.
Partnerships are another way of amplifying an awareness campaign. As a supporter of the See Now campaign, Essilor works with the Fred Hollows Foundation to use its own online and offline networks and communications channels to help the campaign reach more people.
Ensure alignment between key campaign messages and ambassadors. A famous person can increase your reach, but can they also bring credibility? The best ambassadors are often people who have had a personal experience of the issue. They don’t necessarily need to be a celebrity as long as they have a strong connection to the communities you are trying to reach.
5. Be action-oriented
Finally, make sure your awareness-raising is backed up by action and that infrastructure is in place to handle any ensuing demand for services. Once communities have the information and knowledge they need, they must be able to seek the right treatment.
It is so important that all of us working in the vision space think about the most effective ways of raising awareness around the importance of eye health, educating people — particularly those most in need — on why it is important to address the problem and where they can get help.
Devex, with financial support from our partner Essilor, is exploring challenges, solutions, and innovations in eye care and vision. Visit the Focus on: Vision page for more.