Nepal is endemic for several neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), including lymphatic filariasis (LF), trachoma and soil transmitted helminthiases. In order to control and eliminate the diseases, the Ministry of Health and Population, Ministry of Education with support from RTI International and the ENVISION project, distribute safe, single dose medicines through mass drug administration (MDA). High coverage of the treatment communities is essential to interrupt transmission and ensure that the population is free of NTDs. However, in Nepal rumors and misinformation about NTDs have caused many not to participate in these important public health campaigns.
The media has a major impact on public beliefs about health in Nepal. In the past, the local media has lacked the necessary knowledge of NTDs and MDA campaigns, often inadvertently perpetuating rumors and misinformation. The result has been low coverage during MDA in many districts, due to increased fear of side effects from the drugs. Recognizing the important role of media in educating the public, the National LF Program decided to be proactive in educating journalists about the safety of medicines, as well as mobilizing the community to receive treatments. During MDA training meetings for district-level staff, the National LF Program encouraged the LF Focal Persons to hold advocacy meetings with journalists in their districts.
Engaging the Media in Kanchanpur
In Kanchanpur district, located in the far west of Nepal, the LF Focal Person, Mr. Hem Raj Joshi, organized a meeting with journalist. All journalists from the district were invited to a meeting introducing them to the National LF Program and providing information on disease. The meeting was very well-attended and journalists were very interested in learning about the MDA campaigns, asking many questions about the disease, side effects and clarifying past rumors. During the meeting, the National LF Program requested that the journalists help Kanchanpur during the upcoming campaign, encouraging them to educate their readers and listeners about LF, the planned MDA, and the national elimination campaign.
Impacts of Media Engagement
The response from journalists was incredible. Kanchanpur district had allocated some funding for advertisements and jingles about the MDA in the media, newspapers, radio and TV outlets. However, the media outlets also contributed free programming as a result of the training. During the campaign, radio, broadcasted LF messages frequently and all local print media published the articles throughout the week. As a result, clear and informative messages were printed and broadcasted on NTDs, including both benefits of taking medicines and precautions for those ineligible for treatment. The journalists also supported the Kanchanpur program by broadcasting the opening of the MDA live. At the event the Chief District Officer, Local District Officer, medical doctors, and the District Public Health Officer were the first to be administered with the medicines, demonstrating their commitment to the program. The announcer encouraged the community to hurry up and take the drug, relaying the message “Have [a] meal and take medicine!”
As a result of media engagement in the campaign, Kanchanpur reached 85% of the eligible population with treatment. The media response ensured that the MDA continued without incident and that Kanchanpur’s population received the treatment they needed. The National LF Program will continue to work to reduce LF transmission in Kanchanpur and expects another successful round of LF treatment in the upcoming 2014 MDA.