Development communication is the need for the health sector

A senior journalist from Arunachal Pradesh shares his indepth perspective

Mass media plays a central role in lives of people, who spend a lot of time watching television, surfing the web, reading newspapers and magazines. The dissemination of information through mass media is instant and available round the clock. The proliferation of communication technologies, particularly small televisions, handheld radios, omnipresent high quality mobiles and tabs has revolutionized communication in present day life.
Media can serve as a veritable catalyst in terms of upgrading the health ecosystem for the benefit of masses by highlighting prevailing shortcoming and offering constructive insights and suggestions. 
The role of electronic media would be more important (as seeing is believing) particularly as far as the illiterate and less educated population is concerned. In 2018, the literacy percentage of India stood at approximately 74.4%, against the global literacy rate of about 86%. Regrettably, crimes, sex, showbiz and drug-related news are given more weightage now-a-days by media establishments to increase their TRPs at times hyping and exaggerating non-issues while sidelining more important human interest stories. 
The sensational investigation into the alleged suicide of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and demolition of actress Kangana Ranaut's house by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had sent electronic media houses into an unthinking frenzy for several uninterrupted weeks. Most audiences did feel that the more important headlines were being sidelined. 
The television rating points (TRPs) is a metric to judge what programmes are viewed the most. It gives an index of the choice of the people and also the popularity of a particular channel which draws attention of advertisers to issue ads. I believe viewers watch what channels decide to show them only. That is why the subject about whether viewers command programmes or vice versa is still being hotly but inconclusively debated. 
Here it is to be mentioned that many a time media persons cannot reach vital sources of information for stories that make relevant news owing to the sub optimal resources and facilities at their disposal. The best example is Taksing, located at an altitude of 8,100-feet (with inhospitable hilly terrain and unpredictable weather conditions) under Nacho Assembly constituency in Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh. It is perhaps the state's only circle headquarters without road connectivity, electricity and helicopter service, where people lead a very tough life. 
Media can serve as a veritable catalyst in terms of upgrading the health ecosystem for the benefit of masses by highlighting prevailing shortcoming and offering constructive insights and suggestions.
This last border village situated 22 kms away from the Indo-China border is highly sensitive and guarded by the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). Incidentally I had flown there in a chopper in 2015 with the then senior minister Tanga Byaling. We had gone to the last border village close to Line of Actual Control (LAC) where a local nurse was in-charge of a health centre. One will automatically wonder what service can be expected from a nurse? Alasthe local residents (of hardly 52 households) serve as sentinels of the frontier and depend on ITBP medical services.
Representative image
Image: Representative image
India's doctor-population ratio in January 2020 was 1:1456 against the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. And the status of Arunachal Pradesh, (area-wise the largest state of North East India) undoubtedly is much behind. That is why the present state government has attached top priority to the health sector.
The way media drew public attention to health campaigns (like a campaign for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS) is worth appreciating. However, public health communities and policy makers often do not realize the importance and power of media in shaping the health of the public. More importantly, media outlets or organizations do not see themselves as a part of the public health system in today's times when social media abounds with unverified and unauthenticated reports. 
Clearly media needs to extend its services to the healthcare sector by way of development support communication. The concept of Development Support Communication (DSC) was evolved as a multi-sectoral process of information sharing more specifically in terms of development agendas and planned actions. It links planners, beneficiaries and implementers of development action, including the donor community.
The ubiquitous nature of the media makes it a powerful tool for directing attention to specific issues. Health communication campaigns are interventions intended to generate specific outcomes for a relatively large number of individuals within a specified period of time and through an organized set of communication activities. 
Thus, the policy makers, particularly from the health department, should think of competing in terms of 'quality reporting' on given topics. This would not only encourage news persons but also bring to limelight the shortcomings of the health and its allied (linked) sectors. 

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