Wellcome Trust-DFID

Wellcome Trust-DFID

In collaboration with the University of Cambridge, Africa’s Voices will conduct research into the socio-cultural factors related to the prevention of the Zika virus in Lusophone African countries, with funding from The Wellcome Trust and the UK Department of International Development (DFID). In parallel, we will be evaluating our interactive radio approach – which is a communication intervention in itself, as well as a data gathering channel – for rapid deployment in epidemics and health crises.

In the wake of the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis in West Africa, the challenges of public health communications and data collection during emergencies have been laid bare. Top-down public health messaging is rarely – if ever – effective on its own at changing practices of at-risk populations. Instead, messaging needs to be inclusive, rooted in community beliefs and attitudes and aligned with everyday lives of the target audiences. Furthermore, public health data must be collected, analysed and used to inform policy.

The most recent outbreak of the Zika virus was detected in French Polynesia in 2013, Brazil and the Americas in 2015, and Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau in 2016. Consequently, the Zika virus was declared a public health emergency of international concern in February 2016, and then a significant enduring public health challenge in November 2016. In this context, there is a crucial need to better understand the role of media-based community projects in improving public health outcomes. Interactive and local language radio forums can be used to disseminate vital information, collect valuable data, and open two-way channels of communication between citizens at risk and public health specialists.

The Island of Fargo, Cape Verde, where there have been many cases of Zika. As of 8 May 2016, there have been 7557 suspected cases of Zika in Cape Verde.

As of May 2016, there have been over 7,500 cases of Zika in Cape Verde, most predominently on the islands of Santiago (~5000), Fogo (~1300), and Maio (~500). Photo: Sunset from the Island of Fogo, Cape Verde, Caroline Granycome.

In partnership with Cambridge’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), we aim to deploy and concurrently evaluate the value added of integrating ‘real-time’ data with health communication interventions (and subsequent monitoring of efficacy) for future epidemics in African country contexts. With a focus on evaluation, we will conduct a ‘live’ deployment of an interactive radio, SMS, instant messaging and social media project in Cape Verde where there was a Zika outbreak in 2015, and scale it up to Mozambique — a more challenging African context due to population disbursement, rural character, and its diverse socio-linguistically landscape.

Planning for the project is underway, with a preparatory trip to Cape Verde successfully completed in November 2016. The project will run for the duration of 2017.

Research Questions

  1. What is the reach, reliability and scalability of a method that uses local language radio and messaging (SMS/Instant Messaging/social media) as a two-way communications platform for rapid citizen-generated data concerning socio-cultural beliefs of at risk populations in the contexts of epidemics and health crises?
  2. What are the method’s particular affordances and limitations compared to conventional methods (i.e. survey data, such as KAP; long-term ethnographic research)?

Project team: Dr Laurie Denyer Willis (CGHR Research Associate), Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes (AVF Head of Research and CGHR Research Associate), and Dr Sharath Srinivasan (Director of CGHR and AVF).

Top image: Municipal market, São Filipe, Cape Verde, by David Trainer