World Health Day: Commanding a Narrative on a Global Scale

Photo from Avance Care

The World Health Organization (WHO) was created at the First Health Assembly on April 7, 1948, unifying 48 nations in a common mission of tackling the world’s most dire health issues. Every April 7, on what is now referred to as “World Health Day,” the WHO designates a theme to celebrate its conception and the progress made securing healthcare access for billions.

The day creates opportunities to focus on health advocacy and awareness, and has been leveraged by both communicators and media as a way to discuss important issues and question the status quo.

Take Spain for example. Just last year, Spain was struggling to provide their citizens with greater access to healthcare. In 2012 Spain’s then-ruling Popular Party established a Royal Decree Law that excluded thousands of Spaniards from its health care system, targeting mostly immigrants, but also pensioners, long-term unemployed, and young people. On World Health Day 2018, the theme of which was, fittingly, “universal health coverage,” numerous Spanish publications focused on the decree.

As a result, they drew a disproportionate share of web traffic and coverage. Between April 5th and April 8 of 2018, Spain’s media industry garnered 17% of World Health Day digital coverage internationally, second only to the United States. Just two months after World Health Day, Spain’s newly-in-power Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party voiced intent to repeal the Royal Decree and restore eligibility back to excluded groups. The public outcry signaled support to push a more inclusive, comprehensive healthcare policy, and the Party later successfully voted to repeal the decree.

In 2019, for the first time in World Health Day history, the theme repeated, again focusing on universal coverage. Indian media used the opportunity to draw attention to its problematic healthcare system, plagued by a lack of resources and access.

In 2018, Indian media commanded 10% of the international conversation; media outlets primarily criticized the socioeconomic inequity of health care coverage in the country, adding that 90% of India’s population goes to government-run hospitals, where care is free but far less sophisticated — often in need of updates and more staff. Five months later, in September, India’s Prime Minister unveiled a health care overhaul that would provide India’s poorer half with health insurance for private hospital access.

This past Sunday, India amassed 15% of the 2019 international World Health Day coverage, a 5% jump from last year. However, there is a distinct difference between 2018 and 2019’s coverage: branding. In 2018, the primary focus was given to policy objectives, statistics from government reports, and budget proposals seeking to mitigate the most pressing issues faced by the population. In 2019, coverage focused on India’s companies taking matters into their own hands. From healthcare partnerships with Uber, Flipkart, and Amazon to “Startups Bringing Healthcare to Rural India,” the coverage greatly pivoted in scope and focus.

Given the theme of World Health Day was the same last year, communications and public relations efforts this year identified media drivers, holes in the market landscape, and opportunities to build comprehensive campaigns and valuable partnerships. Not only are journalists more likely to discuss health-centric topics on the days surrounding April 7, but they are also looking for unique spins — like in India, where companies were able to take advantage of the coverage spike, incorporate messaging, and gain visibility.

World Health Day, for many companies, can serve as a harbinger for what healthcare topics policymakers and the public will focus on in the coming months. For communications firms, it also serves as a means to prepare.

In this way, Spain’s World Health Day coverage in 2019 should be seen as an opportunity. In 2018, the vast majority of articles criticized the government’s role in their healthcare system. This pattern continued into 2019, as their government changed majority parties. The new majority party pushed modified policy agendas, casting more uncertainty onto the future of Spain’s healthcare system. As a result, the media coverage maintained the status quo: painting the same picture of unrest and frustration facing Spain’s struggling healthcare system. Unlike in India, the media hook didn’t change. Spain’s media coverage had a large gap: innovation. No one proposed answers to the problem — such as cutting-edge academic programming or even policy op-eds from elected leaders.

Gaining a wider scope on the narrative surrounding this day behooves anyone working in the communications industry looking to refine their firm’s communication skills or increase their public affairs acumen. World Health Day affords an opportunity for people to examine their health communications and messages, place a stronger lens on solutions surrounding the issues, and can ultimately serve as a springboard for greater change and broader conversations. World Health Day is a unique opportunity to marry significant international conversations with a client’s messaging and products. It is a firm’s job to rise to the occasion.