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Spreading the Word, Not the Virus

By Jackie Powder

When avian flu hit Egypt four years ago, officials there predicted it would be the source of the next influenza epidemic. The Center for Communication Programs (CCP) team in Egypt began laying the groundwork for a flu prevention education campaign.

Avian flu never progressed to pandemic status. But the CCP team’s advance work paid off in April when the new H1N1 influenza virus emerged in Mexico.

Within a week of the first announced cases of H1N1, Egyptian health officials,in collaboration with CCP, had prepared a USAID-funded multimedia H1N1 prevention campaign, building on the earlier avian flu education initiatives. The package included public service announcements (PSAs) on television, radio and the Web, and nearly 3 million fliers and posters printed and delivered within four days of the level four alert.

As the H1N1 threat picked up speed globally, public health officials in Egypt expanded the effort with CCP’s help, running PSAs on closed circuit television in the Cairo subway, placing billboards on the sides of buses, holding seminars in youth summer camps,and distributing flu-safety multimedia packages to schools throughout the country.

“[The Egyptian government] just ramped up that campaign and took it national; all the communications mechanisms went into play,” says Ron Hess, CCP’s chief of party in Cairo.

Nearby Jordan is also using the H1N1 prevention package, and CCP is considering adapting the campaign for audiences in other countries, says Amrita Gill-Bailey, team leader for CCP’s Near East Programs. “We’re able to tailor the materials as needed for the environment,” Gill-Bailey says.