Universal health coverage (UHC) has become a unifying movement for global health reform. Today, public health officials in most low- and middle-income countries are designing and implementing strategies that aim to accelerate progress toward UHC and global compacts are in place to galvanize change.
With all this momentum for change, challenges remain. Despite strong commitment among health sector leaders to achieve UHC by 2030, understanding and buy-in varies greatly among wider stakeholder groups.
Realizing UHC requires deliberate, tailored communication strategies that increase engagement and knowledge, and create support for change among a diverse group of stakeholders. Each stakeholder group – including political leaders, health care purchasers, providers, patients, suppliers and civil society groups – demands a different set of messaging, information, and modes of communication, whether it be to raise awareness or secure a consensus on a decision that can drive the UHC agenda forward.
Although health policymakers and implementers recognize the importance of strategic communication for advancing toward UHC, no explicit framework existed for planning, implementation, and continuous learning.
The How-To Guide on Strategic Communication for UHC: a New Global Resource
To fill this gap, eight countries brought together by the USAID-funded Health Finance and Governance Project (HFG Project) in partnership with the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage (JLN), released the Strategic Communication for Universal Health Coverage: Practical Guide and accompanying Planning Tool, a global resource shaped by their experiences and best practices.
The Practical Guide and Planning Tool equips UHC champions and implementers with actionable guidance on how to develop a comprehensive strategic communication plan tailored to achieve a specific UHC objective.
Representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Malaysia, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal and Sudan, convened over the past year through a series of virtual and in-person joint learning exchanges to share their challenges and generate practical knowledge on strategic communication to build buy-in for initiatives in support of UHC. The country representatives developed the conceptual framework, tools and techniques based on their experiences and tacit knowledge to inform and co-produce the resource.
The countries introduced the resource to a global audience during a webinar on June 12, 2018, orienting them to the framework for strategic communication for UHC and sharing their experiences in awareness raising, policy dialogue and media engagement. Access the webinar recording here.
“The Strategic Communication for Universal Health Coverage Practical Guide and Planning Tool is an adaptable and editable file that helps implementers create a strategic communication plan, grounded in a framework and guiding principles for UHC strategic communication,” shared Dr. Leizel Lagrada, a technical facilitator with the JLN. The Practical Guide and Planning Tool also contain real-world case studies and step-by-step considerations for strategic communication planning.
Country Experiences with Strategic Communication for UHC
Among the eight participating country delegations responsible for developing these resources, six countries have already used the Practical Guide and Planning Tool in their daily work. During the webinar, representatives from Nigeria shared their experiences in strategic communication for UHC at the federal, state, and grassroots levels.
Dr. Nneka Orji-Achugo, a health economist with the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health, discussed the development of a national UHC campaign that aims to achieve specific policy and behavior change objectives using strategic communication. Dr. Orji-Achugo noted that key messages and communications tactics must be tailored for each target audience: “It’s not just about the grassroots, but also the political office holders. We need to engage with the critical stakeholders. They all want their interests protected.”
At the state level in Nigeria, Somto Mbelu, a knowledge management and communications specialist with the HFG Project, has been conducting media training to increase journalists’ knowledge of UHC and health financing reforms, specifically a new state social health insurance scheme.
“We trained the media on the basics of health financing and universal health coverage. These individuals had little knowledge on the issues around universal health coverage or health financing. After the training, their knowledge increased, and they felt the need to increase their advocacy,” Mr. Mbelu explained.
Inviting UHC Implementers to Use the Practical Guide and Planning Tool
The HFG Project and the JLN invite UHC implementers to explore the resources and draw on them to self-design strategic communication plans for their UHC objectives. The Strategic Communication for UHC Practical Guide and Planning Tool can be publicly accessed and downloaded here.
Dr. Nneka Orji-Achugo, Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria; Somto Mbelu, Health Finance and Governance Project, Nigeria; Leizel Lagrada, Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage; Betty Cox and Emma Willerton, Results for Development