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Worldwide, 1.5 billion people are between the ages of 10 and 24, and 1.3 billion of them live

in developing countries. Irresponsible behavior today can have far-reaching consequences

that affect their immediate health as well as their future opportunities and those of their

offspring. Gaining access to health education and being aware of health services that are

available is vital if today’s young people are to lead healthy productive lives and make

informed choices. Yet many youth today find themselves cut off from the information

outlets and youth-friendly service providers they so desperately need. Strategic investments

in such areas as reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and prevention of other infectious diseases,

and basic health education on preventable causes of death are critical in addressing growing

health crises in underserved communities worldwide. There is hardly a person to whom the

question of health is not a matter of interest and concern. Much of this scourge can be

avoided by widespread enlightenment of the public that health is a personal responsibility.

Yet, how many know even basic tenets of how to keep good health?

On the occasion of India’s Republic Day, lets take the analogy of the Constitution of India.

We celebrated this day 60 times since it happened. Generations grew up hearing about it and

studying about it in schools and colleges. Yet, how many of us know are AWARE? Shoba

Narayan wrote in an article published in Lounge last week that though “…born of a messy

consensus, the Indian Constitution is a magnificent document. Yet, it also needs to be

rewritten, not in the literal sense but in order to popularize it and make it speak to “we the

people” who have inherited its doctrines.” Ask 20 Indians in any city what they know about

our Constitution. Ask 100 college students if they know anything about it. I am willing to bet
good money that you’ll find one, maybe two Indians who will have some clue about what

our Constitution says. I think the same logic and ratio is applicable to awareness on

healthcare as well.

Health literacy is incredibly important and we need to do more to educate the public about

how they should educate themselves. The issue is about creating value around this

information. Removing the sordidness and adding entertaining value. That’s exactly the

point. Entertainment! Will health messages that are embedded into entertainment be better

received by consumers. More importantly, will this cause people to live healthier lives? The

question is how to judge and assess the quality of the health information consumers get

through entertainment.

For many people, prime-time entertainment means heart-stopping thrills and compelling

story lines. But while most regard these programs as pure entertainment, research suggests

that these shows can also be an important source of health information for their audiences.

A study, that assessed the impact of health messages embedded within an episode of the

popular hospital-based show "Grey's Anatomy". The study showed how health messages

embedded in TV programs affected audience awareness of medical issues. To measure the

impact of health messages in medical dramas, researchers worked with the writers of "Grey's

Anatomy" to embed a health message in an episode of the popular program. In this case, the

storyline involved a pregnant woman who was HIV positive, and the message was that she

had a 98% chance of having a healthy baby given proper treatment. Viewers of the episode

completed a survey before and after the episode aired. What the researchers found was that

while only 15% of viewers knew before the show that mother-to-child transmission of HIV
was overwhelmingly preventable, 61 percent were familiar with this fact after viewing the

episode. A follow-up survey found that nearly half of viewers – 45% -- retained this

information six weeks later. Given how many people are multitasking when they are

watching TV, the fact that nearly half of the audience picked up on the factual information

in the show and remembered it later was actually astounding.

This study suggests entertainment TV may be a largely unexploited tool when it comes to

reaching the masses with important health information. Today, people in the West turn to

television for a great deal of information, including health. This is opportunity for both

government controlled and privatized channels to create TV content that are sources of

health information. Not just the news media but also entertainment programming can

emerge as an important source of health information. It is critical for us to have accurate,

timely, relevant health information through a channel that people can use to protect and

promote their health. This means using every single medium at our disposal to do so. During

informal discussions with friends and colleagues revealed that more than half of regular TV

viewers said that they trusted the health information in TV shows to be accurate. This means

that they didn't bother to cross-check the content for authenticity.

Even then, with prime time shows resorting to exaggeration and hype, can audiences also get

the wrong idea from entertainment shows? It's very likely. Taking incorrect messages to

heart could possibly be terrifying for some, who might subsequently believe that their

common symptoms are a sign of a rare, difficult-to-treat affliction. But, even if we're talking

about the flipside, I think that it can be a positive, because it gets people talking and thinking.

It contributes to an elevated interest and motivation to be responsible and vigilant with

regard to one’s own health. Let's say something is hyped. This does still have a positive

effect of having people take steps toward a greater degree of awareness.

Today, at least in India, a great deal depends on the revered doctor -- the family physician.

Very few of us bother to question or cross-check his diagnosis or prescription - much less

ask for additional information - of our ailment. In the interest of spreading health awareness

and a healthy society, we must not place health related issues on so high a pedestal that it

stops resonating with the very people who benefit from it. Simply put, we need to popularize

health and medicines, we must make it fun and easy to understand.

We need to market it, not only to the scholars who read Goodman & Gilman and Hurst and

Topol, but to the teenagers who listen to Bollywood rap. We need A.R. Rahman's

compositions, Rajkumar Hirani [who almost did it through Munnabhai MBBS], Karan Johar

and Nagesh Kukunoor's creative renditions on it. We need Mallu and Sardarji jokes on

health [or the lack of it]; we need to get Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and our very own Shekhar

Suman and Raju Srivastava to banter about its issues; we need ad jingles that skew its

message; we need Ekta Kapoor and Rajesh Kamat to include copious doses of it in their

saas-bahu and downtrodden women serials that invoke its importance; we need college

debates and reality shows based on it.All it takes is a few celebrities to get the ball rolling.

Minister Tharoor and fellow Tweeters such as Gul Panag, SRK and Priyanka Chopra can

help . Chetan Bhagat can write about it. And so on and so forth.

By making healthcare information entertaining enough to access, we not only help India’s

future citizens know what's good for their lives, we also teach both the elite and the
common man not to take life for granted. The lofty ideals of pharmaceutical companies are

worthy indeed. They just need to trickle down from executives and their customers and

scholars to schoolchildren; from libraries to lounge bars; from educational institutions to

nukkads and addas. Simplifying and popularizing health and healthy living will mean a

vibrant and productive society.

Exploiting a widespread medium and converting it into a "Health Tool" is a really unusual

way for percolating a public good such as healthcare. But the industry through constant

consultation with medical experts and government can ensure that such messages get out on

a regular basis. And such medical messages may have the welcome side effect of increasing

the health knowledge of viewers and society at large.

I am just another guy caught in the quagmire of pharmaceutical marketing,
trying to get my two cents across through my blog and this newsletter. I
haven't worked outside the pharmaceutical industry and outside the sales &
marketing function. I sincerely hope that there will be people from other
industries and domains who will deem it fit to share their views and rich
experiences. Last but not least, I am no John Mack, so do forgive the
limitations in views expressed! It is my sincere hope that this newsletter helps
each of us understand how our work in healthcare marketing intersects with
life, in general, and helps us to become better human beings.