When I talk to scientists and activists, I often encourage them to think about new media (the internet, social media such as Facebook and Twitter) as well as the traditional media (newspapers, radio, etc) as a means of getting their message out. Though people do get excited, they question the reach of such media, in countries where internet access is very slow, or not widespread.
A campaign I am presently working on illustrates how new and traditional media can be used in combination. In this case, an innovative project on the internet, was used to generate significant publicity for the campaign in the mainstream mass media.
The campaign is aimed at increasing access to medicines by calling for an end to ‘stock-outs’ — the problem of medicines regularly being out of stock at government health facilities. The campaign is running in Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. It was launched early this year.
As a way of refocusing attention on the issue a few months into the campaign, and also in order to counter government denials that stockouts are a problem, the campaigners held a ‘pill check’ week. During this week (22-26 June), researchers visited visited public health institutions in around their countries and checked on the availability of a list of 10 essential medicines. These are medicines, that, according to the World Health Organisation, should be readily available in public health facilities.
Using innovative technology, the team then reported the results through short messaging services (SMS) to a common site, and the data has been reflected visually in an online mapping of the country that shows areas where medication is out of stock. The project made use of open-source software developed by Frontline SMS and Ushahidi.
The results can be viewed on the Stop Stockouts website. In Kenya, the campaign team held a press conference on Tuesday 30th June. This resulted in extensive news coverage in the mainstream as well as online media. Here are some examples:
So, while the majority of Kenyans might not have ready internet access, many journalists do — and the project was innovative to get their attention.