Report – Global Health Histories Seminar 115: Public Information

Posted on 30 January 2019

The 115th Global Health Histories seminar tackled the historic and present day challenges of public information and communication on health matters.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) became operational in 1948 it has prolifically communicated information about pressing health topics to diverse audiences. Although the communication mediums for doing this may have changed, many of the challenges of public information arguably remain the same. Balancing campaign objectives with resources, working out the most effective way to represent a topic to different audiences, and capturing how opinions and actions changed as a result of the information given will likely remain important questions for the foreseeable future.

WHO Global Health Histories (GHH) seminar 115, held at the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean in Cairo, tackled these issues, drawing upon Dr Alexander Medcalf’s research into the WHO’s historic public information strategies. In his presentation, Dr Medcalf explained the WHO’s early interest in public information, described the strategies employed by the WHO Public Information Office, and explored the challenges identified in delivering health messages. The floor was then turned over to the WHO audience assembled in the Kuwait Hall for an energetic discussion on a wide variety of topics relating to the issue.

Of his participation in this event, Dr Medcalf said, “this was great opportunity to discuss these issues and hear the different perspectives from people engaging with these issues from different backgrounds. The impact and influence of the WHO’s Regional Offices on the agency's public information strategies has been an important point of consideration for me in my research, and its was therefore very enlightening to hear the perspective of this office. I would like to extend my thanks to all staff at the Regional Office for the invitation and for the lively discussion”.

This seminar marks the third GHH event to be held at the Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, following events on the United Nations, Health Systems & UHC, and community health workers

We hope to have a recording of this event available on the CGHH YouTube channel soon. For further information on this topic read Dr Medcalf’s open access article ‘Between art and information: communicating world health, 1948–70’ in the Journal of Global History.