How Pakistan is using technology to save lives

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Amid all the economic and political challenges facing Pakistan, it has earned bragging rights for its public awareness campaigns, including the National Action Plan campaign to conduct Covid-19 vaccinations and, more recently, a campaign to warn the public of the undeniable dangers of the climate. change. How have these government awareness campaigns been successful? Pakistan, a country of over 220 million people, has high mobile phone penetration, which the government is now using to its advantage.

Despite its meager resources and chronic economic problems, including rising import bills and rising inflation, Pakistan has handled the Covid-19 pandemic relatively well. She returned to normal relatively quickly by implementing a multi-pronged policy centered on an effective communication strategy, thanks to her heavy use of the mobile phone.

Using Pakistan’s 175.62 million mobile phone users, the government first raised public awareness of Covid-19 prevention by sending targeted text and voice messages that appealed to people’s self-preservation. . Each time a mobile number was reached, a message invited the caller to protect his loved ones from Covid-19, appealing to their altruism. In the second phase, he succeeded in countering vaccine hesitancy through voice messages addressed to the same people. The government is now using the same strategy to mobilize and educate the masses on how to protect themselves from the deterioration of the climate due to severe floods and heat waves. And the timing couldn’t be better: today, a third of Pakistan is inundated with a high volume of water attributed to climate change.

Effective communication strategies, such as timely, repetitive messaging and language that promotes individual self-efficacy, are critical to the success of any public awareness campaign. Studies suggest that carefully written text messages sent to patients before their primary care appointments boosted uptake of the vaccine. For example, reminding patients about vaccination via two SMS messages increased vaccination uptake by 11%.

While Pakistan ranks extremely low on the Environmental Performance Index, the country is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, as evidenced by recent floods and heat waves that have affected millions of Pakistanis. Pakistan, without a doubt, is facing a serious climate change crisis!

While the previous government of Pakistan had taken some steps to mitigate environmental deterioration, increase its adaptation to climate change and educate a public gravely unaware of the impending climate crises, the effective mobile phone communication strategy is certainly commendable. The strategy relies on an automated mobile phone messaging system in Pakistan giving users instructions on how to protect themselves and their loved ones from climate disasters.

Finding a way to directly engage key stakeholders in climate change adaptation is a significant achievement in a developing country where climate change is overlooked as an imminent danger. This policy will benefit the government by increasing public confidence and public self-efficacy. Going forward, the government could alter messaging focused on climate change mitigation to educate the masses on how to prevent climate deterioration in the first place.

Although the existing Covid-19 communication strategy was to spread general messages across all regions of Pakistan, the government should take a more focused and targeted approach to environmental degradation programs as different areas face challenges. distinct. For example, some regions need to plant more trees while others require efficient water use. In other words, geomapping users are essential to send localized messages about climate change.

Pakistan offers a success story in raising awareness of climate change adaptation among a largely under-educated population through an effective technology-based communication strategy. However, it could certainly improve these efforts by integrating content on mitigation and prevention as well as tailoring messages to regional needs. Hopefully, other countries in the region could emulate Pakistan’s example to raise awareness of climate change as well.

Muhammad Salar Khan, Ph.D., is the Don E. Kash Postdoctoral Fellow in Science and Technology Policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy & Government. He tweets at @wage policy. Farah Latif, Ph.D., is a strategic communications practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. She tweets from @FARAHLATIVE.

Picture: Reuters.

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