Communicating About Global Health

Joyce Ho is the inaugural Stanford-NBC News Global Health Media Fellow, which is partially funded by the Open Society Foundations. In this series, she shares tips for communicating effectively about global health issues through journalism, TV broadcasting, photography, and more.

Communicating about global health can be a challenging task, as one must move others to action about issues they may find hard to relate to. I experienced this difficulty firsthand a few years ago, after I returned from a medical missions trip to Tamale, Ghana. I was an undergraduate at Stanford University at the time, and I wanted to share my knowledge and reflections with the campus community. However, I found two roadblocks: which outlet is the best vehicle for speaking about global health and how best to convey my message. Ultimately I created my own publication, the Stanford Service in Global Health Journal, a space where faculty and students can write about their global health experiences in an anecdotal easy-to-understand style to reach a wider audience.

The importance of communications for raising awareness and support for global health issues continues to be a key area in my medical training. This year I am taking a year off from medical school at Stanford to be the inaugural Stanford-NBC News Global Health Media Fellow. Through a number of experiences and internships in television broadcasting, photography, social media, journalism, and more, I will be learning different methods of disseminating global health information.

In a series of guest posts for the Open Society Foundations blog, I will be sharing different tips and ways to utilize media outlets as I gain insight throughout the fellowship.

I have recently spent six weeks as an intern in the Department of Communications at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. I was fortunate to observe how an international health organization filters enormous amounts of research and medical knowledge into packets of information palatable by the general public. Some of my most valuable experiences were attending basic and advanced communications workshops for WHO employees.

For my first post for the Open Society blog, I have highlighted the key tips relevant to speaking about global health to people of all backgrounds:

  1. Act as a translator of medical jargon at all times. Experts may often use medical language without even realizing it. In reality, the general public will not understand specialized language, and will therefore miss key points of information.
  2. Keep your audience in mind before drafting your message. What is the viewpoint of your audience? Are they for or against what you are trying to achieve? Knowing where your audience stands helps you tailor your messages so you can effectively address the points they care about. Prior to delivering your message, brainstorm how caring about your issue can affect your audience, so you can grab their attention quickly.
  3. Know the end goal of your message. Before speaking, you must know what is the action you want from the audience as a result of hearing you speak. Raising awareness of issues is a key component of global health, but you can do more than that. Use every opportunity to call your audience to action for the issues you are so passionately advocating for.
  4. Clarity is key. Make your issue known at the very beginning, and refer to it throughout. Sometimes the audience is not familiar with global health, and can be distracted if too many topics are mentioned. Try keeping to three main messages about your issue, three being an optimal number for most people’s memory, and stay with those issues.
  5. Appeal to the heart and the head. A stumbling block in global health communication is answering the audience’s question of “Why should I care?” One approach is to deliver powerful messages that cater to the audience’s emotions. Examples are firsthand accounts of disease stories, interviews with individuals who have personal experience with global health disparities, or footage of the devastating effects of disease, just to name a few. Another approach is to appeal to those who want facts and hard evidence for why they should care about the issue. In these cases, you can use statistics on disease burden or economic implications of disease outbreaks, such as this recent publication from the WHO, on the cost of inaction for the Non-Communicable Diseases epidemic. I would suggest using a mix of the two approaches to balance out your message and to appeal to as many audiences as possible.

I appreciate questions and comments, and I look forward to sharing more of the information I learn this year on global health communications.




Thanks, it's a good idea and an useful work!

Kind regards

from Hungary

Hi Joyce,

Your 5 key points are would also benefit advocacy organizations in their general planning. I've worked with nonprofits for 5 years, three of those years in an advocacy organization, and I think if these questions can be answered at any level, it naturally follows that communicating messages would be that much easier.

You were so clear! I look forward to your blogs.

Best Regards,

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