Amidst the rising health concerns globally, this week we sink into commemorating one of the highly successful health communication campaigns in India and relive the Pulse Polio campaign.
“Dhikkar hai hum par, Polio ke booth par itne kam log?” when this baritone in Big B’s voice echoed on every TV set and radio station in the early 2000s, hundreds of mothers thronged to Polio booths in rural India giving their child the much needed- ‘Do boond Zindagi Ke’. When asked what made them come to the camp that held little or no importance for them initially, prompt came the reply – Amit ji has become angry! Pulse Polio Campaign had officially begun.
With the campaign working on various levels to eradicate the disease, Pulse Polio advertising journey is hailed one of the more successful ones.
This Thursday, we take a look at how the World Health Organization’s Global Polio eradication initiative paved the way for India to become polio-free simultaneously tuning into its campaigns acting as weapons to fight the battle.
Pulse Polio Campaign – Do Boond Zindagi Ki
In 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Rotary Foundation joined hands to lead a public health effort to permanently eliminate all cases of poliomyelitis (polio) infection around the world. During that time Polio was endemic in India. With Dr.Harish Vardhan at the helm, the Government of Delhi piloted the first-ever large scale supplementary immunization campaign with Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) in 1994 which was followed by the launch of “Pulse Polio” immunization campaign with the iconic ‘Do Boond Zindagi Ki’ tagline, on 2nd October 1994.
1 million children up to 3 years of age were targeted under the activity with two doses of OPV being administered through an exclusive booth-based strategy. In 1995 the campaign was executed at a national level where the organization adopted a door to door strategy to spread mass awareness as a result of which 159 million kids were immunized till 1999.
The campaign was carried out on a large scale with effective use of mass mediums like newspapers and radio announcements. It also unleashed an immense spirit of volunteerism among individuals including teachers, leaders, medical practitioners and even students who provided a helping hand to prevent the spread of communicable disease.
These were also the times when the endemic was plaguing the nooks and corners of rural India and awareness about the immunization program was low. Participation and cooperation of masses in the Polio Campaign were less due to legitimacy before 2002-2003.
India was struggling to overcome its socio-economic backwardness and ill health due to illiteracy, unemployment. People were not accept the benefits of polio drops and immunization against the disease and instead chose to believe in rumors like the drops caused infertility among children.
The Bachchan Effect
2002 witnessed a massive outbreak of Polio in India while the population in northern India, (from UP and Bihar which comprised more than 95 % of total cases) continued engaging mass resistance to immunization. The Ministry of Health and UNICEF had to take the matter in its own hands and roped in (then) Ogilvy and Mather to lead the mass communication for the Pulse Polio program.
The challenge lied in persuading rural mothers to walk up to the vaccination camps and help their kids become immune. As a means to combat the same and appeal to a wider population, Amitabh Bachchan was roped in as the brand ambassador for the Polio Eradication Campaign in 2002.
The celebrity had agreed to support the cause pro bono. In his book ‘Pandeymonium’, Piyush Pandey shared that they did not want to do some preachy government advertorials. That’s when he asked the senior Bachchan to portray the role of an Angry Young Man – as he was widely known for – in the PSA as well. Pandey and his co ad man Ajay Gahlaut went onto script the advertisement. The initial response from the client was – “How can Mr. Bachchan shout at people?” To which Pandey replied- “Of course he can and should. He is going to do it like a dad who is upset with his child”.
Ogilvy and ad director Santosh Sivan worked in tandem with the Ministry to create and produce multiple ads. According to the archives, radio was the primary medium of communication before 2003 and reached the remotest location. Later the focus was shifted to TV spots and films.
To further influence the masses, five radio spots, highlighting the same issues as the TV spots and film, were produced and broadcast on 184 stations throughout India about 15 days prior to NIDs and Sub-NIDs.
Mass Media’s Magic – Making India Polio Free
Celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan and AR Rahman were also roped in to join Big B in doing the greater good and spreading awareness about ‘Pulse Polio’ and ‘Do Boondh Zindagi Ke’ on a larger scale. Various emotional and action-oriented ads were broadcasted. Muslim and other minorities’ opinion leaders were made a part of the campaign.
A study also states that a one-minute film clip was launched describing achievement of IPPI for all Indian children and the challenges that remained before reaching the final goal of polio eradication – which couldn’t be traced online at present.
Further mass media channels were equipped with personal, rational and emotional appeals where stars like Jaya Bachchan and Aishwarya Bachchan were brought on board while the ads continued featuring Bachchan and his voice. Sports legends too joined in as role models. Emotional appeals were intensified under – anger, fear, trust, happiness, joy and team spirit.
Eradication efforts coupled with effective use of mass media for the ‘Pulse Polio’ campaign was met with measurable success. India recorded just 66 cases in 2005, down from 135 cases reported in 2004, 225 in 2003, and 1,600 in 2002.
From a door to door strategy, the communication was upgraded to OOH, posters, campaigns, exhibitions, interpersonal communication, village seminars, wall paintings, were organized with special focus on health camps (swasthya mela), kala jatha, wall paintings, folk drama and community meetings. Publicity was extensive and included replacing the national telecoms’ authority ringtone with a vaccination day awareness message.
Banners were mounted on strategic locations like bus stops and railway stations to enhance visibility, a few buses and autos carried them too. Big B’s ads were aired on radio and TV, 10 days before the January and February rounds of Immunization. Four advertisements and posters, banners were produced in major Indian languages. On TV, every Sunday the PSA was broadcasted as Polio Ravivaar (one Sunday of every month) keeping in mind the presence of parents at home.
Leveraging the popularity of daily soaps on TV, the makers and the initiative helmers ensured to integrate polio and other health messages into storylines and episodes for subliminal messaging.
This Close to Eradicate Polio
Organisations like Rotary and various stars like Anil Kapoor from the world of Indian Cinema came together to let India know that we were this close to eradicating polio from our country.
India reported only one case of polio in 2011, compared with 42 cases in 2010 and 741 cases in 2009. The campaign emphasized three key points: polio has no cure and can only be prevented by taking the oral polio vaccine; the vaccine should be taken multiple times by children up to five years of age; and the highest-risk populations, migrants and mobile communities, should take the vaccine wherever they go.
The campaign’s logo depicts a couple and a child taking two drops of oral polio vaccine.
During a press conference in 2011 for the launch of the campaign, Bachchan stated, “India is historically close to eradicating polio. We are on the edge of achieving our dream of ensuring no child in India is ever needlessly paralyzed by polio again. The world is watching and taking lessons from our effort. Let us together continue to work to make polio history in India”.
Print ads and posters featuring famous celebrities with an appeal that read – ‘Now polio is going to end. We have to walk a little bit more’.
The ‘This Close’ posters created hope and motivated parents to pledge co-operation and support to the movement. A study published on communication and health, shares that as the campaign gradually moved towards success, various posters, ads, and pamphlets were launched which showed that happiness and joy of those parents who gave polio drops to their child. This institutionalized the campaign in minds of people, and parents accepted the arguments that polio drops are ‘two drops of life’.
Every Bachchan ad about Polio awareness would end with the actor raising two fingers with the message- ‘Pulse Polio Immunization- Two drops of Life’.
India achieved a major milestone with the World Health Organization (WHO) striking it off the list of polio-endemic countries on 25 February 2012. The call-to-action with the tagline ‘Do boond zindagi ke’ helped in making India polio-free by February 2014 while being officially declared as a ‘Polio free’ nation.
“That was when I first realized I was in the right business”, Piyush Pandey was quoted saying to The Drum. The ad guru also admitted that the Polio Eradication campaign is one of the greatest works of his lifetime in advertising because it reaped the required results.
Spreading awareness the Social way
Bodies like UNICEF India, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Health Portal have been utilizing social media to its core, especially Facebook to create mass awareness about polio booths and why is it necessary.
The creatives on digital media are lined up featuring the goodwill ambassador Amitabh Bachchan and a few other celebrities.
While a few others display hard-hitting facts about the disease and the consequences of not taking the vaccine on time.
The objective is to keep the conversation going and the fight against polio alive. Digital platforms are assisting the ministry and many health organizations to spread the PSA to the right people at a right time.
Let the conversation keep going. Each citizen of the country is responsible for keeping oneself and their future generation safe. All with the help of just Do Boond…