The University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) is proof that dynamite comes in small packages. Not only does the institute contribute to creating a malaria-free Africa through continued research and the use of advanced technologies, but it uses innovative communication platforms to promote malaria awareness and prevention.
“Community involvement and education are crucial in changing community attitudes and behaviour towards malaria,” says Professor Tiaan de Jager, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and the director of UP ISMC.
“It is therefore key that we disseminate new knowledge, from the laboratory right down to healthcare workers and communities affected by malaria – information they will find culturally appropriate and easy to action.”
Beyond the conventional routes of publishing in accredited journals and presenting scientific findings at conferences, the UP ISMC has successfully harnessed the power of social media, digital apps and the visual arts in communicating with a wide range of audiences.
“We researched where our target audience was gathering information” explains De Jager. Those findings then determined the relevant communication strategies and platforms for each specific group.”
It’s no surprise that social media forms a pivotal part of the institute’s campaign. Its Facebook and Twitter accounts are used on a regular basis to inform the broader public about news regarding global malaria and about the results of research projects taking place at the institute. Future plans include incorporating LinkedIn, Instagram and podcasts to extend the institute’s reach and attract new audiences.
The UP ISMC has also developed a “Malaria Buddy” app, aimed primarily at informing tourists about malaria. The app notifies users when entering malaria areas and allows them to search for the nearest available clinic. A recent update to the app includes treatment information for healthcare practitioners and a news module containing the latest scientifically correct, malaria-related information.
“In terms of prevention, we want to ensure that we reach younger audiences in innovative ways that are both educational and entertaining,” says De Jager. “We regularly host photo competitions, outreaches and fun days at schools in rural areas. We even released a song in Tshivenda to educate young children and encourage behavioural changes.
“Our book, Sibo Fights Malaria, is now used in malaria education projects in rural primary schools in Limpopo. We also collaborated with students from UP’s drama department on an informative theatrical piece to improve malaria awareness in rural primary schools.” In addition, events underpin the institute’s communication strategy. These include launches, public talks, displays, symposia, a malaria research conference and an awareness campaign. World Malaria Day is commemorated annually either through an event or a field excursion by postgraduate students to a malaria-endemic area.
“My main goal is for the UP ISMC to continue expanding, building capacity and contributing significantly towards the malaria elimination agenda in Africa.”