Learning from lurgy

I spent yesterday lunchtime in the company of a group of ladies from the University of London Intercollegiate Luncheon Club. With most sentences beginning “In London in the 50s…” I lowered the average age quite considerably. It was great though! All of them have, or had as they’re now retired, medical careers in London hospitals and they get together every so often to have lunch and listen to an invited speaker. My godmother – a former theatre nurse and midwife – took me along as her guest. “In Mile End in the 50s” where she did home births it was the prostitutes who were the best source of local info she told me! Perhaps they still are.

Hookers aside, the lecture topic was very apt considering my imminent departure for South Africa: ‘A history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)’ given by Professor Anne Johnson of UCL.

What really interests me about this is not the biology of disease (cause that’s far too complicated) but the spread of infection because of the behaviour of people and how that’s been influenced (or not) through campaigns over the 20th century. Also, seeing what behaviour change tactics have been used by public health campaigns compared to environmental messaging.

Saatchi’s Pregnant Man poster – their first famous ad that launched the agency in 1970 – is a striking image aimed at men to pointedly say “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” Nice. Simple. Good timing after the swinging sixties when STD rates increased. And now the name of Saatchi’s in-office pub in London. The model’s expression is pure Rodney Trotter in my opinion!

The pregnant man approach is in stark contrast with an earlier war time campaign aimed at troops let loose on R&R warning of unclean ‘good time girls’, that Prof Johnson talked about. Oh yes, good idea, blame the women! The campaign can’t have been effective as there was a surge in STD rates attributed to soldiers frequenting the ladies with the best local intel, even if they couldn’t understand what language they were speaking.

Then in the early 80s along came HIV. I don’t remember them, but Prof Johnson mentioned the AIDS Iceberg adverts with the straight and to the point strap “Don’t die of ignorance”. Pretty stark, but as Prof Johnson said, scare tactics do seem to work with these kinds of health issues. Possibly not the same for smoking campaigns though.

She heads up a research project surveying the sexual behaviour of the UK population and is often used as an expert to answer questions about STDs. I managed to get the following tidbits:

> One of the most effective ways of raising awareness of STDs in the UK was when someone on Eastenders got HIV. Soli at Futerra has been saying the same thing about normalising positive environmental behaviours like recycling for a long time.

> Peer education among young people has no negative effect on risky sexual behaviour (i.e. it doesn’t make them have more unprotected sex at an earlier age) although it wasn’t as successful at influencing a change in behaviour as they had hoped. Peer to peer influence in environmental campaigns is widely considered to be an effective approach – possibly because positive green behaviours are more public than intimate sexual experiences! And people are more influenced by what other people are doing than they realise they are, as evidenced by research reported in this Ecologist article.

> It’s a classic and communicators should know it well, but information alone will not change sexual health behaviour. The same goes for environmental campaigns.

> Scare tactics around sexual health risks do work. I guess as long as they are backed up with information, advice and support. Whereas, if you scare people with apocalyptic, world-ending doom and gloom imagery and scenario profiling it’s most likely to encourage them to bury their head in the sand and revel in ignorance.

I’d love to look more into the similarities/ differences/ lessons learnt from health and environmental behaviour change campaigns more… and perhaps will follow it up with some research. But if you’re interested, I can recommend checking out the work of Matchboxology on the South African government’s HIV/AIDS public behaviour change programme. And please do recommend any good reading on the matter.

It’s official though, there is definitely a lot more learning to be had from lurgy – like prostitutes, there’s intel behind people’s sexual health behaviour to be had!

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: