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Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health Blog



Rebranding Non-Communicable Diseases: Lessons from a UCL Grand Challenges in Global Health Event

By Rosie Webster, on 13 October 2014

Kethakie Sumathipala is a PhD student in the Mental Health Research Group at PCPH. Here she reflects on lessons learned at a recent UCL Grand Challenges in Global Health event. 

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Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) refer to non-infectious diseases or medical conditions that are long lasting, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They kill around 36 million every year, worldwide; more people than any other cause.  Once considered to be diseases of the West, 80% of NCDs occur in the world’s poorest countries and affects the most marginalised communities.

A few months ago, I attended the NCD makeover show, organised by UCL’s Grand Challenge of Global Health. The presenters worked in fields outside of the world of academia and were all interested in the use of effective communication. They brought forward ideas from their experiences in social enterprises and the BBC to provide suggestions on how we might effectively work towards communicating risk relating to NCDs. From the session, I was able to obtain some valuable lessons in communication.

Communicating risk

Fred Hersch worked for NCDFree, a global social movement which aims to influence public, scientific, and policy action, by using inspiring local narratives and the medium of film, to communicate the challenges, opportunities and solutions of NCDs. He highlighted that even when people are aware of the health behaviours that may be good for them, such as eating healthily, drinking less or exercising, it isn’t always easy to make these changes. For one, the cost of giving up something today is far greater than the perceived benefits in the future, whether it be exercising rather than going to the pub on a Friday night, or spending your limited resources on the basic needs of your family rather than preventative medications. Therefore one of the greatest difficulties and challenges in managing NCD’s is communicating risk. He suggested the following simple methods to achieve this:

1) ‘Rebranding NCDs’ to suite a new generation, and the use of new forms of communication, particularly social media.

2) ‘Refocusing on health’ and living healthier lives, rather than only focusing on expansion of ‘health care.’

3) Messages which are accessible to the people they are targeted towards, by taking to consideration the contexts in which people live and the challenges they face in different countries, communities and backgrounds.

Branding NCDs

Ed Gillespie, from Futerra Sustainability Communications explained that one of the key aspects of effective communication was branding. Using the example of ‘Apple’, he explained that a great brand should: include a meaning and purpose, be visually identifiable, include a compelling story, be honest about what it provides, and keep evolving to stay relevant. He emphasised the following recommendations:

1) ‘Branding NCDs’– by using examples of recognisable brands such as Nike, Ed explained how  many people are able to associate with a visual image (e.g. Nike’s ‘tick’), and a tag line (e.g. Nike’s ‘just do it’) with iconic brands, he suggested that this may be relevant for rebranding NCDs in the future.

2) Use of acronyms – Ed explained that most lay audiences are familiar with HIV, AIDS and SARS, even if they cannot tell you what the letters stand for, however, fewer people are familiar with the term ‘NCDs’. Ed thought that this familiarity was important and suggested that a good acronym could be one of the steps in raising the profile of NCDs.

3) Use of a compelling story – Ed used the example the Cancer Research UK 2014 campaign, which follows a young woman moving through life over the course of a minute, from a child to a teenager to motherhood as the disease starts to take hold, interspersed with shots of scientists working towards finding a cure. The commercial ends with a scientist who appears to make an important discovery and the young women being given some good news. The final message is ‘one day everyone will beat cancer.’ Ed felt that this poignant and compelling story had the key ingredients to engage with the target audiences in a very short time, following this young woman’s difficult journey followed by a happy and positive ending

Using stories

The use of a good story was further discussed by Frank Ash, a documentary maker from the BBC. Frank explained that the stories should be emotionally engaging, intriguing and exciting to the audience.  He also warned against bombarding people with too much information. If the story was compelling enough and not overloaded with information, people were more likely to take away and remember a few key facts.
I found this event really interesting, and it inspired me to think about the way in which I could communicate my research findings to different audiences in the future. I hope that these lessons provide you with some food for thought!

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