As HC3 Closes, New Chapter Opens

In 2012, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) embarked on a mission, backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by several international partners. As the leader of the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative project (HC3), we set out to design, implement, manage and evaluate evidence-based social and behavior change communication (SBCC) interventions in countries around the world – and, in doing so, to improve health and save lives.

The project, which ends today, was extensive. HC3, a five-year, $130.5 million project, covered multiple facets of individual and community health: family planning; HIV and AIDS; maternal, newborn and child health; malaria and nutrition. And even though we couldn’t have known when the project began, we added Ebola and Zika to the HC3 portfolio when those outbreaks demanded our attention. We led multi-year, comprehensive social and behavior change operations in 17 countries and provided targeted technical assistance in another 17. We created online communities and in-person opportunities to connect with other social and behavior change professionals, most notably in 2016 when we led an international SBCC summit in Ethiopia.

At the heart of all HC3 activities was one fundamental idea: sustainability. Our goal was to increase the ability of partner organizations and governments to design and implement sophisticated, data-based programs on their own, coaching and enabling them to inspire their communities to continue to adopt healthy behaviors far into the future. Much of this work will continue on long after HC3 ends.

Looking to the future, we are emboldened and excited by our next international mission from USAID: The Breakthrough Action project, a five-year initiative worth up to $300 million that will enable us to be ever-more innovative as we bring social and behavior change to more communities around the world.

CCP is proud to have created real, measurable impact under the HC3 project. Here’s a small taste of just how it made a difference in people’s lives.

In Nepal, HC3’s Smart Couple campaign encouraged the use of modern family planning methods among young, newly-married couples and encouraged contraception use among new mothers who didn’t want another child right away. Centered around the motto of “Family Planning Makes a Smart Life” (or “Parivar Niyojan Smart Banchha Jeewan” in Nepalese), the campaign included television and radio spots, outreach and activities through mobile phones and social media and, at the community level, the promotion of counseling services.

For this work, CCP was honored with the prestigious Flame Award (Gold) for the Smart Couple campaign, which was named the best Social Development and Corporate Social Responsibility campaign of 2017 in the Emerging Markets/South Asian category. We also saw outstanding real-time feedback and interaction with these couples through our social media activities and, most importantly, an increase in contraceptive use. HC3 research found that contraception use increased by about 10 percentage points from before the Smart Couple campaign was started to after it was implemented. That’s a lot of women who are now empowered to plan their own futures.

In Nigeria, we worked under the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) to increase the use of proven malaria prevention and treatment measures, such as sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets or receiving preventive malaria medication during pregnancy. Through a combination of mass media and community outreach activities, HC3 made a measurable impact. For example, in locations where the campaign was active, data from Nigeria’s health information management system show a 139 percent increase in the number of pregnant women receiving preventive malaria treatment, substantially more than the 41 percent increase in areas without campaign activities.

HC3 was not yet working in Liberia when their first cases of Ebola were reported in the spring of 2014. As the number of cases increased, however, we jumped in, setting up an in-country office and staff that lasted through the end of the HC3 project. West Africa’s Ebola outbreak would ultimately result in tens of thousands of deaths, ravage already compromised health systems and fuel existing distrust between communities and health care systems. Using our communication expertise and real-time polling of people’s understanding of the crisis, HC3 helped the government of Liberia reach the right people with the information necessary for them to protect themselves from Ebola and stop the spread of the disease.

Once the outbreak was over, we stayed on in these countries. In its aftermath, we have worked alongside the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to help them cope, strengthen their health systems and re-build trust, confidence and a sense of ownership in local health facilities. HC3 worked directly with the most affected communities, bringing together community members and health clinic staff for open, honest conversations. We facilitated mini-makeovers of these clinics, repairing broken equipment and stocking supplies while bringing the community inside to help paint and clean the clinics alongside health workers, giving them a true stake in the process. In all three countries, our research indicates that clinic use has surpassed pre-Ebola rates.

There are too many stories of how HC3 has made a difference to share them all. Please visit HC3’s website to learn more about what we accomplished in Asia, Africa and South America, as well as to see the trove of materials and guides we created. Additionally, I encourage you to visit two of the community sites created by HC3 that will continue after the project: Springboard for Health Communication, an online forum and knowledge-sharing space for SBCC practitioners from around the world, and the Health COMpass, a space to share “the best of” SBCC materials and global project examples.

The closure of HC3 isn’t an end, but a new beginning. With Breakthrough Action, I know I will be sharing even more examples of innovation and success as CCP continues to help people around the world live their healthiest lives.

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