Why health communication fascinates me

I first developed an interest in health communication while studying international development in University of Bristol, UK. Why were the scary “AIDS kills”   billboards in Africa not changing people’s risky behaviour? Only as I begun to write my thesis did I realize that there was a whole field devoted to this problem – social marketing, health promotion, behavioural change… My thesis was entitled: HIV /AIDS prevention in Africa : barriers to behavioural change and implications for Information, Education and Communication interventions. Most behavioural change theories and models place the onus of changing behaviour on the individual, failing  to recognize the political, economic, social and cultural context of health.

Health afterall spans much further than the biomedical sphere. The social determinants of health such as literacy are extremely important predictors of health. According to  Dennis Raphael (cited in Wikipedia), “Social determinants of health are the primary determinants of whether individuals stay healthy or become ill and… are about the quantity and quality of a variety of resources that a society makes available to its members.”

The really interesting paradox is how much (or rather how little) is spent on these critical determinants compared to how much governments are willing to spend on costly health care interventions that would be otherwise unnecessary. Need I repeat the age-old irony of not having the money to pay for preventive programs  but unhesitatingly doling out the large sums required to fix the problem once it is firmly entrenched? And the astounding frequency with which this scenario is repeated by successive generations of policy makers? Remarkably (or may be not), this phenomenon is not unique to resource constrained developing contexts – it’s found even in affluent nations.

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