Closing the Dengue Communication Gap

How U-Report helped Jamaica’s health ministry respond to dengue

Ross Sheil, UNICEF Digital Media Consultant
A schoolgirl listens to a discussion on non-violence during the visit of UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War Ishmael Beah
UNICEF/UNI28241/Markisz

10 June 2019

It was the start of the year, and our Youth Council had just approved a new poll to send to U-Reporters. Then we had an outbreak of dengue hit Jamaica. The Ministry of Health & Wellness asked for our help to respond to this public health emergency and we had to quickly adapt our plans.

Jamaica has had dangerous outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses such as chikungunya and zika in recent years – all transmitted by the same aedes aegypti which transmits dengue. So, we assumed that young Jamaicans would be familiar with these infectious diseases.

Youth council, left to right: Dominic Mcintyre, Hakeem Bryan, Danielle Mullings and Rasheem Martin, Loteshea Hutchinson and Brithney Black (not pictured).
UNICEF/U-Report Jamaica
Youth council, left to right: Dominic Mcintyre, Hakeem Bryan, Danielle Mullings and Rasheem Martin, Loteshea Hutchinson and Brithney Black (not pictured).

However, by sending a single word ‘DENGUE’ on Facebook or SMS, young people in Jamaica were informed about the illness.  The U-Report poll quickly identified a gap in knowledge, with 47 per cent of U-Reporters admitting that they did not know the symptoms of dengue. This was both surprising and startling, but many shared their suggestions to help the Ministry.

The poll also invited U-Reporters to share their suggestions on how the Ministry of Health & Wellness could  adjust its plan to respond to the evolving situation, and 45 per cent of the 840 respondents did so. U-Reporters expressed a willingness to be engaged in prevention activities, such as training peer educators in schools, and in year-round action to prevent outbreaks: “The Ministry can create a mosquito prevention challenge in which individuals win prizes,” said a male U-Reporter, aged 19 from the parish of Portland.

Dengue Alert U-Report Poll
UNICEF/U-Report Jamaica
U-Report: Message the word DENGUE to receive information
UNICEF/U-Report Jamaica

With an obvious gap in knowledge to be filled, we created a U-Report bot/ Dengue Information Centre whereby U-Reporters could message the word DENGUE to receive information about A. Prevention, B. Symptoms or C. Treatment.

 

This was the first use of U-Report for the Ministry of Health and Wellness, and it had a strong impact.

Minister of Health & Wellness Chris Tufton (in beige vest) looking into a drum (potential mosquito-breeding site).
Jamaica/Ministry of Health & Wellness
Minister of Health & Wellness Chris Tufton (in beige vest) looking into a drum (potential mosquito-breeding site).

“If someone had asked me six months ago about the fastest way to reach young people in Jamaica, I would probably have said Instagram. If you asked me today, I would likely say the UNICEF U-Report, albeit with the caveat that it depends on your needs.

That helped us to close the communication loop. In short, we asked youth what they needed to know about dengue, they told us and then we gave it to them.”

Petre Williams-Raynor, Manager of Public Relations and Communications at the Ministry

U-Report polls are sent via messaging to Jamaicans aged 13-29, who opt-in anonymously to become U-Reporters to share their views on issues that matter to them. Currently there are 6,400 U-Reporters in Jamaica.

All messages are sent free of charge to U-Report in collaboration with partners, after they are reviewed and approved by a U-Report Youth Council. U-Reporters can still receive information on dengue by messaging the word DENGUE to U-Report (@ureportjamaica on Facebook Messenger or 876-838-4987 via SMS, free for FLOW customers).