Culture as an effective health tool

The Commonwealth Health Professions Alliance (CHPA), an association of accredited professional organisations representing nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists and community health workers, was invited to deliver an address to the annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting on 20 May. During her presentation, Jill Iliffe, Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth Nurses Federation, drew on the experiences of CHPA organisations from around the Commonwealth and called for the need to embed culture in messages about preventing both communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). “It is our contention and our experience that the most effective and successful health messages to prevent communicable and non-communicable diseases are those that take account of, and are specifically designed around, a local community’s cultural beliefs and traditions,” Iliffe stated.

Various examples were provided from Commonwealth countries, including a programme in Nigeria in which translating HIV/AIDS-related health messages into local languages resulted in a dramatic increase in immunisation rates and a significant reduction in HIV prevalence. “Globally, the HIV and AIDS epidemic taught us valuable lessons about how to convey culturally acceptable health messages if you want to change health behaviour,” explained Iliffe. She went on to say that the most successful of these messages are “delivered locally by people who know their target group, who know their target group’s values and beliefs, and who design their health messages so that it is culturally acceptable to their target group”. She reiterated that this culturally aware approach could be just as successful with NCDs.

The CHPA also debated the merits of using cultural approaches to develop disease-prevention messages and services at the Commonwealth Partners Forum, which followed on from the health ministers meeting. The discussion was led by international experts Dr Collins O. Airhihenbuwa from Pennsylvania University and Dr Christoph Benn from the Global Fund.


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