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This is a paper presented at a WHO seminar sometime back.

Mass media and Health communication

 

There was an incident of children being administered unmeasured or excess doses of vitamin A in Andhra Pradesh recently. There was even mortality and the matter found it’s place in the media. The effect was that parents were not ready to give their wards the otherwise necessary dose of the vitamin. This only proves the importance of media in communicating any kind of information to the people. There is another instance of suicides being discussed at the international level. This is also a creation of the media.

 

The purpose of this piece is not to talk about the negative effect of communication but to establish the importance of mass media in imparting education to people. The level of health awareness that is there among the people of even the remote villages is largely because what was written and told in the media.

 

There was a time when news paper hardly reached the villages. Fortunately around the time when they started reaching there, the producers of the papers realised the importance of adding additional fare in their content. Every periodical worth its name included special pages for men, women, children and youth. Apart from all the other subjects, health was discussed here in as much detail as possible. Even before that, magazines have been running columns written by specialists. Now that the papers are reaching the villages the material was made to suit the needs of the readers there. More and more villagers started taking advantage of the expert advice available through the papers. They even started discussing their very personal problems which otherwise would have been embarrassing. There are even some specialised magazines which only deal with health communication and related subjects. This trend is, of late, happily spreading to the language press. Specilaised magazines and content is receiving the importance it deserves both from the producer and the client. Thus information about health and hygiene is reaching people even in remote corners of the country. Today you see counseling columns in almost all the periodicals through which experts share their knowledge with people.

 Information about seasonal and common health problems found it’s place as is expected in these magazines. Once in a while government pitched in with the all important campaign themes in the press and other media. Once there was malaria and small pox etc. and the present it is AIDS. The kind of awareness about the dreaded disease is surely because of the mass media and nothing else. People are looking at the pages of the periodicals for the answers to their problems. Our society is not really ready to discuss sex and related matters in public. People talk about the sexology columns and counseling pages with contempt. It is also a fact that nobody misses these pages. If at all there is some awareness regarding the matters related to sex, it is only because of the bold writings in the magazines. However it is also a fact that these writings remained male oriented even today and something is needed to be done to bring necessary information to women also. Magazines specially meant for women are gaining ground gradually as more and more girls have become literate even in villages. These magazines are now trying their best to reach the women in the village.

 

It is interesting to note that there is enough awareness about almost every subject under the sun in rural unlettered masses also. It is more pronounced in case of health matters. It is not solely because of the field based publicity from the government side. All India Radio, the state owned broadcaster of the nation has done it’s bit in this direction with illustrious results. At present the medium is relegated to a second place because of the onslaught of the Television medium. In spite of the fact radio remains the best medium to reach the people in the village and some in the city, because of it’s reach and also inexpensive nature. You don’t have to spend anything to receive a message from radio. Even if the next door man plays his radio you get your dose of message. The extension units of AIR, funded separately by the Ministry family welfare have done some good work and continue do so in bringing the massage of the health to the unlettered. These units though named family welfare include all kinds of health matters in their programmes. Apart from dealing with the family planning, mother and child health, and related subjects, these units enlist the services of the medical professionals an big way and bring invaluable information about all conceivable health subjects. Each state capital has one such unit and caters to the needs of the listeners in the state. Radio could address the needs of women abundantly because of the different time slots available for various kinds of listeners. Special programmes meant for women are gain classified. There are programmes meant only for rural women apart from those for working women and urban women. Invariably health subjects to suit the needs of the target are planned and included in these programmes.

 

Television is more fashionable and is more attractive because of it’s visual content. It is interesting to note that even the private channels are giving a lot of importance to health communication, because people want it. Most of these channels follow in the foot steps of the state owned channels and even go a step further in bringing the message to people effectively. A couple of channels also run special programmes for women and give them some invaluable advise. The state owned Doordarshan is governed by the same principles that steer the other media groups under the ministry. Though the set up of All India Radio and Doordarshan has changed and is now known as Prasar Bahrati an autonomous organisation it retains it’s position as a public broadcaster. Hence it goes without saying that it continues to give the same importance to subjects that are more needed by people than those that are liked by people. Interestingly since health is some thing that touches the person whether interested or not it remains of importance.  The phone in programmes of DD that deal with health subjects are an indication towards this situation.

 

Health is now a days perceived as a social obligation rather than a personal matter. You have to be healthy not in your own interest but in the larger interest of the family, the village and the society. Indian society is so big and versatile that no one agency can complete that job of educating it’s members. In this situation it is the mass media which bear the torch and spread the light. This light is glowing more than ever in the present days. Though “health for all by a specified date” remained a mere slogan, people now know their necessities in this direction and can take help from the suitable source. This is more than enough in a vast country like India. The trend will for sure continue and we can very much hope for a healthier India.

 

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