Health Communication: New Dimensions

S. Ganesh
Assistant Professor, Journalism, SDNB Vaishnava College, Chennai

Introduction

Health communication deals with health and communication aspects connected with it. The government of India launches various programs promoting the health of its citizens, and health media and health communication to help to serve this end. Some aspects of health communication would be doctor-patient relations, communication in a cancer ward and things like that. Health communication is an emerging area and it would be useful for communication scholars to pay attention to it. The government of India has many health projects and it uses communication to further its goals effectively.

Communication

Communication is defined as the passing or transmission of information from one person to other. When we communicate, we disseminate or transact information generally. Among the many definitions of communication one commonly agreed is about the transmission property of communication. (Williams F 1985).

Communication gets the message across and its different forms include verbal and non-verbal communication, mass communication, management communication and the like.

Communication has been changing drastically and there has been a communication revolution sweeping the 21st century. We are in the midst of the fourth communication revolution where new media and the internet are creating great changes worldwide. More than 40 per cent of the workforce is involved in internet-related work and this revolution has made everything easier for everyone. Despite some hassles, the advance in science and technology has benefitted mankind greatly ushering in great changes and development. Changes in commuting and personal luxuries for everyone have made the world more livable. Prolonged benefits of man-made technologies are available to everyone, whether poor or reach.

Communication technology has made weather prediction and TV transmission easier and quicker and telephony and telemedicine have become the norms today. (Uma Narula 2000). Many new inventions have prolonged life and have made things easier for everyone. Life-saving drugs have reduced pain and agony and helped prolong the life of the rich and poor alike. The government and the private sector have been doing good work and have made life easier and livable.

Many life-threatening diseases are now curable and the lifespan of patients with these diseases has been increased. The survival rate of patients suffering from diseases like cancer has gone up. It is found that some private organizations like the Cancer Institute at Adyar have communicated the message that it is not just cancer but its fear and the treatment delay etc that cause death. Cancer treatment has become possible in today’s communication environment because of awareness and availability of better medicines and cures. Once cancer patients faced sure death or something equal to it, but it is no longer true because of better health education propagation by the government. Still, it is yet to be established scientifically whether one gets cancer because of genetic, natural or some other causes. After research, some histological facts cited as the cause of cancer include smoking, unwanted pregnancy or genetic disorder. Great strides have been made in the prevention, cure and treatment of malignant cancers in India and other countries including the USA. Health communicators and others have raised consciousness for better staffing, better funding and better treatment systems for cancer management today.

Health communication needs to discuss the methods for better health. A slogan of the government of India was ‘Health for all by 2000 AD’. Several years have passed since then but adequate health facilities are difficult for the poor and the downtrodden in the country, although some rich terminally ill patients are not affected much. Simple living and dietary control help to some extent and the rich do not have to face much of the complexities of life. Modern societies do cause strain on the people and complicate their lives by making them dependent on the consumption of machine-made goods in artificially healthy conditions as opposed to the natural environment.

Many international organizations, including WHO, have been launching campaigns to promote health in a big way. The ministry of health and family welfare has been launching various programs on health and family welfare as well. The government has also been launching commercials on radio and TV to promote health for everyone.

Health for all

The goal of health for all is achievable. The poor people are living longer today and some senior government officials are dying early. This is happening in Tamil Nadu and other places. The government has to take care of this.

Government schemes have been benefitting the poor and making medicines available to them. Private healthcare is very costly in India. Private hospitals charge more and it takes lakhs of rupees for the treatment of a sick person even though the treatment may be good or better than in government hospitals. Although insurance helps, the uneducated and the poor get easily duped by insurance agencies and they have to spend money or go to government hospitals for treatment.

Government media

Government media have been spreading across the country the message of healthcare for all. The ministry of information and broadcasting has also been spreading the health message to the people. (Annual Report I& B ministry 2006)

The information on health for all has been reaching a large number of people. The government of India’s MOHFW has been preparing jingles on various health-related themes and broadcasting them. It has benefitted many people.

The advertisements released by the DAVP of the government have been reaching a large number of people and benefit them.

Private media

Private media too have been playing a role in health promotion and health propagation. The privately-owned media have been carrying advertisements for various health-related services. Individual doctors do not advertise. But they carry out personal communication and use other methods of communication to spread awareness and create a market for various services they offer. (Ganesh S 2009)

Print media

Print media plays a pivotal role in health communication and health propagation in the country. It has to create awareness, spread information and propagate health messages effectively to reach all audiences. The print media reaches a large audience than other media when it comes to depth and length of coverage. The messages can be easily preserved and are useful tools in the communication of the messages.

Electronic media

The electronic media communicates messages forcefully. The messages reach all audiences and the audio medium of radio reaches far-flung areas while TV reaches the urban areas and the fairly well to do families. (Kohli-Khandekar 2010). Electronic media can be used to propagate health communication messages across all people. (Singal and Rogers 2001)

New media

New media could also be used to propagate health messages and health communication messages effectively. The new media is highly advanced in the West and people use it greatly for a variety of purposes-for work, fun and profit. Forty per cent or more people are involved in new media-related work, using it for work and internet communications. The new media usage is more among the upper and upper-middle-class youth, creating a digital divide between those who use the new media and those who don’t. (Ganesh S 2005). Health messages can be spread using the new media effectively and in the new media environment.

Communication strategy for health communication

We need a combination of three or four multiple media to serve the public effectively. A single medium cannot do this job better. Strategies have to be planned to reach audiences effectively and communicate in a credible and better way. Multiple media is ideal for reinforcing the messages and getting across all the information to the public effectively.

A good communication strategy for healthcare has to reach all and meet their expectations of getting all the necessary information on various health-related issues. The communication strategy will aim to provide health services to all and empower people to deal with major diseases. The thrust of the government of India is the prevention of diseases rather than cure and this strategy will be followed by all governments.

The government’s ‘Health for all by 2000 AD’ has brought some breakthroughs. For certain types of cancers like breast and cervix cancer among women, a five-year survival rate has been established and major breakthrough in medicines has been made.

Health media

The government media promotes government programs and provides general information. The private media shows more concern for the needs of the well to do in our society. Health communication strategy would use all available media to serve people and provide service to the poor and needy effectively regardless of caste, class and religious divisions.

Need for communication media

Communication media is needed to spread health messages to everyone. Health messages on alcoholism, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases help society. The message on precautions to take for the prevention of cancer, heart attacks and other terminally ill diseases helps a person to think and stop taking risky foods and follow a reasonably good lifestyle. Modern medicines along with health-conscious food can help people to live longer and this could be the main goal of all governments. The MOHFW of India has produced commercials to get the message of healthy living across to everyone. Medicines can cure but a healthy lifestyle and diet and a natural way of living life will help to sustain human lives longer. The mortality rate becomes higher if people eat unhealthy food with high-fat content and lead a stressful life.

The Cancer Institute (WIA) in Chennai, a leading cancer centre, advises a lifestyle for a longer and cancer-free life. It advises avoiding the use of tobacco in any form, limited sex and limited meat-eating and consuming limited alcohol for longer life. It has put up a board in front of its annexe and advises people not to fear cancer but to delay its diagnosis. It advises cancer checkups for all grown up and aged men and women to detect cancer at an early stage when it is benign. The Madras Metropolitan Tumor Registry registers cancer cases to find out the survival rate and the details of cancer patients in Chennai where it has been in operation since early 1981 or 1982. The real reason for the growth of cancer is still not known but it is mostly linked to food and diet. Simple living helps in being cancer-free. But the incidence of death due to cancer has not been brought down in India, the US and many other countries because of the lack of better medicines and better facilities provided by the government. Heart attacks have been increasing due to smoking and other habits. This has to be brought down effectively. Smoking cigarettes has been banned on flights and in public places.

Ban on cigarette advertising and cigarette

Cigarette promotion has been brought down and there is little awareness of new brands as cigarettes can be seen only in shops. During the 1980s market research agencies used to do studies on the popularity of various brands of cigarettes. This has also been stopped now. Thousands of people lost employment but this has helped greatly reduce the incidence of cancer and heart attacks. This has been happening globally. It is better health for all.

Many health practitioners prescribe modern medicines alongside a simple lifestyle for better health. Cancer patients have no dietary restrictions to prolong their life span. Modern societies enjoy many material comforts and a simpler lifestyle, healthy food intake and regular exercise help to prolong the life span greatly. Excessive consumption of alcohol, which is rampant in India and many other places, needs to be curtailed because it causes cancer. Tamil Nadu has relaxed prohibition. Gandhiji had advised people to stop drinking. Mild consumption of alcohol will not do much harm. It is consumed in college cafeterias in the US where women also drink alcohol, as do some women in India. But moderation in drinking need not be harmful. But alcohol consumption causes liver disorder and can reduce the lifespan greatly. That is why people, especially men, from some castes in India where drinking is common die at an earlier age than the non-drinking castes.

Health messages need to stress safer living and abstinence from more sex and drinking by all. The government should launch campaigns, regardless of the party in power. People should be given incentives to avoid smoking and drinking and this will help in the reduction of the death rate due to these habits.

Health communication today

Due to advancements and marvels of technology, bypass heart surgeries have become easier and safer. There is less fear today because bypass surgeries have become common. Eyesight testing has become better and cataract surgeries have become more frequent now. One can get treated as an out-patient at reduced costs of hospital stays and lower treatment charges. The advance of modern technology has seen many diseases such as malaria eradicated due to better living conditions in villages and towns. Government hospitals provide free treatment to poor patients who are unable to pay. The treatment is good. Many private doctors visit government medical colleges in India where they teach at the faculty and render service by performing complicated operations. Successive governments in power in Tamil Nadu and the country have treated the poor patients well and provided costly lifesaving medicines free of cost. India has excellent health institutions such as AIIMS in New Delhi in the public sector and Apollo Hospitals in the private sector in many cities. The Apollo Hospital in Madras has been well equipped for cancer treatment since early 1985 when cancer treatment was available only in a few hospitals. Advancement of technology and medicine has helped in better treatment of many diseases. The West has some of the finest hospitals where the human heart has been transplanted to make it possible for patients to live longer. Complicated cancer and heart diseases get treated well in the US and some other countries but the success and wonders of modern science and technology are now generally available in many nations. Science and technology have many positive aspects as men and women benefit from new medicines, improved health science and total health care solutions. Cure for rare diseases is found in research laboratories of the west and it benefits all people. The media’s role is to disseminate the research findings and in helping everyone alike.

Need for reform

Health communication has to help the poor get medicines and facilities for treating diseases. The poor and the needy have to be empowered and only then there is meaning in making the facilities available to all. The government has to provide healthcare facilities to all and empower the poor people to fight diseases. The need to take healthcare facilities to all would be one of the major tasks ahead and it has to be done urgently.

Health media

There are vernacular, English language and government media and private media available for communication of health messages. Many cable TV networks and government media carry health messages. The health media helps in the communication of health news and views effectively and in reaching out to a large number of people.

Media vehicles

Cable TV stations like SUNTV, Jaya TV, Kalignar TV, Raj TV and others carry health news and interviews either occasionally or routinely. Media vehicles help in carrying all kinds of messages, especially health messages. The I & B ministry has helped spread family planning and family welfare and RCH messages in a number of formats. Many newspapers carry advertisements and health news and information benefitting many people.

Strategy for health communication

A Health communication strategy would take all media into account to cater to people’s needs effectively. Health strategies for the prevention of dreaded diseases like AIDS and cancer are to be advocated. The government of Tamil Nadu and the municipal government and corporation in their hoardings say that prevention of AIDS and advocacy of chastity and faithfulness to partners is helping in curing AIDS. The message in the hoardings says that AIDS can end the marriage life. It says further that one should not become a bug or an insect and crave extramarital relationships and the like and die of AIDS. There is also the advocacy of condoms for safe sex and this comes from the United States backed Agency for International Development (USAID) funded projects in APAC VHS and others. Similar efforts are undertaken by the government of India and others as well.

The health communication strategy needs to be comprehensive and made effective for all and have to maximise benefits for all citizens. Only when we deliver effective healthcare to all we can say that our communication strategy is a successful one.

Conclusion

Health communication is a powerful subject that needs quick attention and solution from the government. Health communication has to be good to match the profile of the audience. In India, health communication is in its infancy. It is expected to grow widely in the coming years. In the US, it is advanced and it is a separate discipline that is being taught in several universities. It is bound to grow more and more in the coming years and is expected to achieve a separate academic status soon.

References

  1. Ganesh S (2005) Introduction to Advertising (New Delhi: Radha Publications)
  2. Ganesh S (2009) The Role of Mass media in Bringing about social change (Unpublished MPhil thesis Sri Venkateswara University Tirupati)
  3. Khohli-Khandekar, Vanita (2010) Indian Media Business (New Delhi: Response)
  4. Publication Division, Government of India (2006) Annual Report Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi
  5. Singal Arvind, and EM Rogers (2001) India’s communication revolution ( New Delhi: Sage)
  6. Williams F (1985) The New Communications ( Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth)

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