COVID-19: Is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

COVID-19: Is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

Collectively we’ve never cared about our health as much as we do now. Over the past few months we’ve come to analyse every cough and headache, scroll obsessively though epidemiology statistics and sign off emails “stay healthy”. But the news cycle, which now rarely deviates from COVID-19 coverage, has swallowed up opportunities for raising awareness of other health conditions.

Awareness days, weeks and months are a key time to spotlight certain conditions and disease; research and patient support organisations can fundraise, patients can share their experiences of living with a condition and information on signs and symptoms is shared widely to promote early diagnosis.

Research from the University of Oregon shows that early Breast Cancer Awareness Months resulted in diagnoses spiking every November after October events, however this effect only lasted for a few years. Other objectives for campaigns are notoriously hard to pin down. Whether you’re counting the number of people who may have been reached via news media circulations or social media impressions, it’s difficult to gauge the impact of your activities. While campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have been successful in bringing little-known diseases to public consciousness, these have proven to be the exception rather than the rule.

Forgoing quantity for quality

The most tangible way to demonstrate wide-ranging impact of a campaign has been through media coverage. Placements in print publications and radio and television spots have been able to guarantee an audience of thousands, if not millions. But right now, unless a story is centred on COVID or is COVID-adjacent, it simply won’t run.

In accepting that “raising awareness” isn’t a feasible measure of success, it’s important to consider how best to support the patient community. Social distancing has had a wide-ranging effect across the care continuum; halting clinical trials, impeding the manufacturing and distribution of medicine and limiting the care that many people are receiving.

By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, industry can reassure patients that our commitment to care is unwavering. Organisations have invested in creating COVID-19 resources that cover everything from the practicalities of travelling to care centres to emotional support during periods of isolation. Sharing content that resonates during a difficult time will offer a sense of continuity and solidarity to patients and their caregivers.

Taking it online

While we’re all spending our time glued to the internet, it can be difficult to cut through the noise. This is where you can benefit from a targeted approach.

Google and YouTube offer functionality that ensures your content gets in front of people looking for it. Allocating some of the budget earmarked for novelty pins on boosting carefully created content will result in more meaningful engagement with the patient community. Even without paid promotion, you can increase visibility by optimising your content through simple SEO techniques like utilising effective keywords and spending time on your meta description.

On social platforms too, small investments in promoting content can start conversations and build relationships online. Here it helps to know your audience well and set your targeting parameters carefully. The opposite of this advice remains true, however. If your resources don’t offer a benefit to the community, liking or sharing third-party content would be more appropriate at this time.

Just remember that social media is designed to start conversations and right now people have a lot of questions. While standardised response matrixes can be a quick and effective tool in the ‘normal’ world. During a crisis, a more personalised and empathetic response can make a world of difference.

So, is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

Yes. May, which previously represented a key opportunity for diseases as varied as cystic fibrosis, bladder cancer, lupus, and Huntington’s disease, has morphed into “COVID-19 Awareness Month”. The domination of one disease has come at the detriment of many others, and at a time when patient communities need more support than ever.

We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with patient communities and our approach needs to be careful and considered. As in most areas of life, there is a ‘new normal’ when it comes to disease awareness campaigns, and this will continue long after lockdown is lifted.

Written by Emma Purdy, Account Director, Madano Healthcare.

Stay alert to Madano’s COVID-19 coverage by visiting our communications hub here.

The ‘Ripple Effect’ of the COVID-19 pandemic on clinical trials

The ‘Ripple Effect’ of the COVID-19 pandemic on clinical trials

Clinical trials are the engine room that powers our ability to deliver new treatment options to patients. The rigorous testing and resulting data that help us understand how new treatments work are what propels our industry forward.

But the engine room has flipped a switch. Governments have brought in various measures to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections and to help health systems cope with related pressures. The impact of these measures, compounded by pressures on supply chains, coupled with new recommendations from regulators on managing clinical trials, as well as companies’ own internal reprioritisations, have created a perfect storm in R&D. Hundreds of trials have been affected—including delays and disruptions to ongoing trials and cancellations or revisions to planned ones—and more changes are expected.

Furthermore, many healthcare providers have been pulled in to support critical care needs or at-risk patients, leaving less time and resources for clinical trials. This leaves patients with other conditions at risk of being left behind. With many patients unable—or unwilling—to visit clinics, uptake of telemedicine is flourishing, which is a positive step forward, but also creates its own set of challenges in data collection. Nonetheless, increased adoption of telemedicine, real-world evidence practices, and different types of outcomes could help recalibrate perceptions of acceptable—and approvable—trial results.

But in the meantime, delays to data availability—combined with medical conferences postponing and/or moving to virtual formats—is requiring many companies to rewrite their congress and publication strategies. We need to take new approaches in determining how, when and where to share data with target audiences, whilst ensuring timely and transparent communications. In addition to changing the playbook of how we communicate with those approving, prescribing or taking medications, we also need to keep advocacy groups, investors and internal colleagues informed of changing plans, particularly as launch timings may be delayed.

It is apparent the pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on clinical trials, which will ripple out to all areas of our industry.

Our immediate focus should be on protecting the integrity of ongoing trials and ensuring study participants know about changes to trials and how we are protecting their safety. In the medium term, we will have new opportunities to spark greater creativity in communicating results, and hopefully new best practices in trial design and regulatory requirements. In the longer-term, there will be an R&D pipeline that looks quite different from today’s. Amidst all this change, adaptability will be key.

Madano is part of AVENIR GLOBAL, a powerhouse firm of specialist healthcare communications agencies. We have combined our deep experience and expertise to craft a curated selection of resources on the impact of COVID-19 on the clinical trial space, from a multidisciplinary perspective. With our new Ripple Effect website, we hope to enable you to make informed decisions across different functions and within your companies as the situation develops. Content on the site will constantly evolve to stay ahead of the ever-changing environment, so please do check back regularly. Click here to explore the Ripple Effect site.

For further information the impact of COVID-19 on clinical trials and what this means for your organisation, please contact Katy Compton-Bishop, Head of Healthcare, or Reghu Venkatesan, Head of Global Healthcare.

International Women’s Day 2020 – The Women Who Inspire Us

International Women’s Day 2020 – The Women Who Inspire Us

Sunday 8 March was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s campaign theme was #EachforEqual, promoting the message that we can all actively choose to “challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.” With this in mind, members from each of our practices have highlighted inspirational women from different backgrounds and fields that have made huge impacts to our world as we know it.

Margaret Calver – Kat Dominiak (Creative)

Kat Dominiak

Female designers have had a huge impact throughout the history of design and their works are engrained in our everyday lives. It isn’t a surprise that historically the male-dominated graphic design industry hasn’t always had the best reputation for gender equality. However, female designers have played an important role in establishing graphic design as we know it today.

Did you know Margaret Calver’s work has helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives in the UK? Her very simple and easy to understand graphic language is on every single road sign and signpost across the entire country. She helps you get safely to work, school or home. Margaret is a typographer and graphic designer mainly known for her collaborative work with Jock Kinnir on the design of Britain’s roads – she’s a creative icon that had a huge impact on the design industry.

“With talent, dedication, and creativity in spades, women are – and always have been – killing it in graphic design.” – Rebecca Gross

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw – Elisha Raut (Insights)

Elisha Raut

You might have heard of the term intersectionality somewhere in the stratosphere. Maybe it’s because you’re engaged in critical race theory, or because you once eavesdropped on a pretentious and overly jargonated conversation at a LEON (just me?), or perhaps somewhere in between. In a reductive nutshell, it’s the idea that a person’s lived experience is contingent upon several overlapping axes of their identity, and it’s a foundational concept that was developed approximately 30 years ago by lawyer, professor, philosopher, and theorist, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

While the inception of the term was mostly within the context of legal advocacy, where discrimination regarding sex and discrimination regarding race were treated as mutually exclusive entities, it has now pervaded many areas of academic and everyday discourse.

While Crenshaw’s past achievements could span novels, she remains consistently active in educating the masses, not just through academic avenues, but also as a public speaker. Many of her highly engaging and thought-provoking talks are available on YouTube.

Although the term intersectionality has entered the everyday vocabulary of many people who may be characterised as, and sorry in advance for using this term, “woke”, it has also faced criticism from the anti-woke crowd. This is the main reason her continual educational efforts are still invaluable: in the information age, we can (fortunately and unfortunately) still believe whatever we want, whether it is justifiable and evidenced, or not.

Rosalind Franklin – George Mitchell (Healthcare)

George Mitchell

Science is supposed to be paving the way for the future and yet, when it comes to gender equality, it is stuck in the past. At present, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and they continue to be overlooked and undervalued in a male-dominated field. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Rosalind Franklin, a chemist and x-ray crystallographer who, in May 1952, captured an image that would quite literally change the DNA of biological and healthcare research.

Franklin’s seemingly uninspiring and blurry ‘Photo 51’ would lead Watson and Crick to discover the DNA double helix, for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Since then, we have sequenced our genome, increased our understanding of genetic disease and even learned how to edit our DNA.

Franklin died in April 1958 from ovarian cancer, possibly caused by exposure to the very x-rays which led to her discovery, something for which she was not recognised until the years following her death. With the Nobel Committee still unwilling to award posthumous prizes, Franklin remains one of the greatest unsung heroes in the history of biology and healthcare research.

Admiral Grace HopperBen Gascoyne (Technology) Ben Gascoyne

While the typical tech sector stereotype is male-led, you should know that some of its earliest and most influential innovators were talented and inspirational women.

That includes Grace Hopper, an American mathematician who began her career in computer science as World War 2 began. Working with the very first computers throughout the 1950s, she pioneered the development of programming languages that were based on natural languages, such as English, instead of abstract mathematical symbols.

That may seem obvious now, but was met with resistance at the time. Delivering her vision for computing made programming more accessible for everyone who followed her and paved the way for the tech giants you know today, like Microsoft and Apple.

Somehow, alongside a hugely successful career in computing, Grace Hopper found the time to rise to the rank of Admiral in the US Naval Reserve. Admiral Hopper passed away in 1992, but today, social enterprises such as the fantastic Stemettes are making sure that girls across the UK can follow in her footsteps and are inspired and empowered to take up STEM careers, including in the tech sector.

Mary Prince – Hoda Awad (Energy and Environment)

Hoda Awad

Mary Prince was a courageous woman who helped to change Britain as we know it. She was an enslaved woman who campaigned in the 1800s for abolition.

In 1829, Mary was the first woman to present an anti-slavery petition to Parliament, arguing for her human right to freedom. She was also the first black woman to write and publish an autobiography, which was a key part of the abolitionist campaign in Britain. It was during that very same year that her peers in the abolitionist movement introduced a bill proposing that any slaves must be freed.

Mary was an inspiring woman who invented political activism almost 100 years before other more well-known movements began to gain traction, such as the Suffragettes.

With modern society becoming increasingly competitive and divided, it is more important than ever that we champion and communicate the achievements of women. We have a shared responsibility to remove barriers and create opportunities so that, regardless of gender, anyone can fulfil their potential. By working together towards gender equality and providing women and girls around the world with heroes and role models, we can inspire the next generation and create an environment from which we can all benefit.

International women's day
Madano appoints new Head of Healthcare Practice and creates Global Head of Healthcare role

Madano appoints new Head of Healthcare Practice and creates Global Head of Healthcare role

Strategic communications and insights consultancy Madano has appointed Katy Compton-Bishop as the new Head of Healthcare, with the existing Head of the Practice, Reghu Venkatesan, promoted to a new role as Global Head of Healthcare as the business expands its reach in Europe and the US.

With over 20 years of healthcare communications experience, Katy has a proven track record in new business development, team leadership and client service. During her career Katy has led large-scale pharma and disease awareness campaigns for GSK Vaccines, Daiichi Sankyo, Novartis and UCB across multiple channels and geographies. She comes to Madano from MSL, where she was brought in to help rebuild the health practice and generate new business opportunities through both the network and marketing activities.

Referring to her new position, Katy Compton-Bishop, Head of Healthcare, commented: “Healthcare clients continue to look for new ways to engage and connect key stakeholders, and the combination of strategic insight and creative delivery that Madano has to offer makes us ideally placed to address current and prospective clients’ needs. I look forward to bringing my experience to bear to help us continue to deliver the best work for our clients.”

Michael Evans, Managing Partner at Madano, said of Katy’s appointment: “Everybody in the industry knows the challenge of finding top-class, strategic communications professionals at senior levels. We’re delighted that Katy has decided to contribute her extensive healthcare communications knowledge and expertise to support Madano’s continued growth and success.”

Madano’s Healthcare Practice helps clients bring products, services and propositions to life, turning complex concepts into simple and compelling messages. Grounded in science, the team is also driven by a passion for creativity and a commitment to delivering programmes built on deep stakeholder insight.

Thumping Win for Boris – What the Result Means for Energy, Environment, Technology and Healthcare Sectors

Thumping Win for Boris – What the Result Means for Energy, Environment, Technology and Healthcare Sectors

The shackles are certainly off for Boris Johnson. Securing the largest Conservative majority since 1987, the Prime Minister has the parliamentary votes to deliver Brexit and push the policy agenda (loosely) outlined in the party’s manifesto.

Take a look at our analysis of what a Conservative majority means in our results-day mailer by clicking here (also pictured below):

Let’s Talk HIV

Let’s Talk HIV

Once considered a death sentence, claiming more than 32 million lives since records began, there are now nearly 40 million people living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Increasing access to effective prevention, treatment and care, means that people who develop HIV are now able to live long and healthy lives.

Even with all these advances, a cloud of fear, prejudice and poor understanding still cast a shadow over individuals with HIV, reinforcing the importance of education and awareness days. 1st December 2019 was World AIDS Day, where organisations and individuals aim to raise awareness, knowledge and remove the stigma around HIV and AIDS.

HIV continues to be unwittingly spread in the 21st Century, with many people seeing HIV as a health issue of the past. The issue feels a lot closer to home here in London, where 34% of new cases in the UK are diagnosed. There are now, however, multiple drugs that are helping to reduce these numbers, allowing individuals with HIV and those at highest risk to live normal lives.


Some of the various ways that HIV CAN NOT be transmitted “Myths About HIV and AIDS” –

HIV IS transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids with an infected individual, the most common of which is through sexual intercourse without a condom. Despite the misconceptions of many, heterosexual individuals are at an equally high risk of infection. In further contradiction to the stigma around the disease, HIV can also be transmitted without sexual intercourse, through sharing of needles or maternal inheritance during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

HIV is VERY RARELY transmitted through oral sex and kissing and only in occasions where there is exchange of infected blood.

HIV is NOT transmitted through air, water, mosquitoes, saliva or touching.

With effective treatment, HIV may not be transmitted at all!

Treatments and Prevention

Antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) have been available since 1987, and work by reducing the amount of virus (or viral load) in the blood – allowing the immune system time to repair itself. By taking a daily dose of ARVs, individuals can keep their viral load at an undetectable level, which is now understood to mean that they can also not transmit the virus to others.

Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U)

Started by the Prevention Access Campaign, the slogan is intended to educate and remove the stigmas around transmission of HIV. U=U is based on scientific evidence that when the viral load in the blood of people with HIV is undetectable, they are unable to transmit the virus to others.

The most effective way to prevent the transmission of HIV is through the use of condoms during sex, but there are other methods that have been proven to significantly reduce and prevent the risk of infection.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the daily use of ARVs by HIV-negative individuals (people who do not have HIV), to prevent infection from their HIV-positive sexual partner. Studies have shown that, if taken correctly, PrEP can be 100% effective. If an individual not taking PrEP is exposed to HIV, they can start a course of an ARV called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours to prevent infection.

Despite the availability of effective treatments and an ability to control the transmission of HIV, the wider public remain uneducated about these advances, leading to the retention of historical beliefs about the virus and those who carry it.

Tackling Stigma

Rugby Union legend Gareth Thomas completing a 140.6-mile Ironman following his announcement that he has been living with HIV.

Misconceptions have been publicly challenged over the past couple of decades, with celebrities and sportsmen speaking about their experiences with HIV – from Charlie Sheen to Magic Johnson. One of the most high-profile cases in recent years in the UK has come from Rugby Union legend, Gareth Thomas, who revealed in September 2019 that he had been living with HIV, through a video titled “I’ve got HIV and it’s OK”. Thomas decided that he wanted to educate himself and others and tackle the stigma of carriers being ‘frail and sickly’, by completing a 140.6-mile Ironman challenge. Thomas’ willingness to communicate in the media around this, as a high-profile and well-respected sportsman, enabled wider attention to be brought to the virus, and physically demonstrate that HIV no longer needs to be a death sentence or a limitation.

Initiatives like World AIDS Day, and the efforts of those such as Gareth Thomas, will always be vital for raising awareness about HIV and tackling stigma. Communication is essential to remind everyone that people who develop HIV are now able to live long and healthy lives, without infecting others, in order to reduce the stigma associated with this condition.

Written by George Mitchell, Programme Executive

Madano advises clients across the healthcare sector – if you’re interested in learning more please drop us a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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