Get decision-makers talking about health: Here’s how

When you launch a health campaign, you want to be heard. But what’s the best way? Here are thoughts from three Mandela Washington Fellows on how they’ve done it.

Prove you’re an asset!

If your campaign is actively serving the community, then the people in charge will eventually take notice, because they will recognize the need that you fill.

Mandela Washington Fellow Paul Saing’eu is used to receiving little recognition from public leaders for his organization, Wings of Mercy Psychological Support, perhaps due to a persistent stigma against mental illness in Tanzania. But when his counselors cared for thousands of bereaved citizens at a public memorial service after a national tragedy, the government took notice.

Wings of Mercy was asked to lead a psychological support network for local schools and create radio programming on depression and trauma. He says they’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the community.

“I am happy that the government is now appreciating our work and is giving us a platform to advocate and to create awareness and to educate,” Saing’eu says.

Teach officials the benefit of your project

YALI 2017: Ajimegor Ikuenobe, from Nigeria. Mandatory credit: (Dept. of State/D.A. Peterson)
YALI 2017: Adeolu Arikawe, from Nigeria.

Public health has been shifting toward preventive measures that keep people from falling sick in the first place. But it can be hard to get buy-in from policymakers, says Airkaw Adeolu Oluseyi, a Mandela Washington Fellow who works for the Federal Medical Centre of Abuja, Nigeria. Hard infrastructure projects — like a new road, a hospital or a fleet of emergency vehicles — typically get the most attention in young and developing countries, since they offer tangible benefits.

Oluseyi and his organization, Doctor On Call Health Support Initiative, use information technology to improve preventive health in underserved communities. To garner support, the group runs demonstrations for policymakers and elected officials so they can see firsthand the benefits their concept has to offer.

“The important thing is to get one person in government that really likes your idea,” he says. “Because once you can get one person, that person can move things around for you.”

Help leaders feel ownership

YALI 2017: Ajimegor Ikuenobe, from Nigeria.

Every community has its influencers — a council of elders, the market women, religious leaders. They may have earned their position through profession, experience, family connections, or simply by the power of their personality. Anyone wishing to reach the wider community must go through them.
Mandela Washington Fellow Ajimegor Ikuenobe has found that some of the community heads in Benin City, Nigeria, where she works as a doctor, expect to get paid for their endorsement of her public health programs.

“To navigate that, I had to find, depending on the people’s personality, what they would take instead of money,” Ikuenobe says. “I found that many of these people like prominence. That was a language they understood.”

She began naming health campaigns after community leaders, putting them on committees, bringing them to meetings with local government, anything to make them feel like an integral part of the program.
“It makes them own it in some sense — and then it works.”

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