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I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (About Malaria)

Nature's Declan Butler (whom we have linked to several times in recent weeks) has a brief but provocative idea on his blog today, musing about alternative distribution media for medical information in the developing world.

...when I attended the UN Millennium Project’s Nobel Forum meeting in Stockholm at the end of last month, I discussed the problems in getting information on malaria and other diseases out to remote villages in Africa with Kenya’s health minister, Charity Kaluki Ngilu. I mentioned that even in the most remote areas of Africa one could almost always find Coca Cola, and suggested that perhaps she should think about piggybacking health programmes on top of such distribution infrastructures. I haven’t thought about this in detail, but it seems like an idea worth pursuing.

If you'd like to discuss the idea in particular, please check out Declan's blog. I'd like to talk more generally here about the use of arguably non-worldchanging platforms for worldchanging efforts.

I suspect that the majority of readers would feel that the widespread availability of Coca-Cola in parts of the world still struggling to get reliably clean water isn't an ideal situation by any means; moreover, that dichotomy is hardly unique to high-fructose soft drinks. But Declan may well be onto something: rather than railing against Coca-Cola's prevalence, would it make sense to -- in a bit of medical information judo -- leverage its ubiquity as a tool against a much more serious medical issue? Or is that buying into a market/cultural paradigm that should be avoided, even at the cost of lost opportunities for communication?

Comments (3)

I wonder if the universal availability of coke would be a ideal network to move vaccines over, particularly because so much refrigeration is required for both coke and vaccines.

Flannel Flower:

I don't like unhealthy junk like coke being marketed through misleading healthy, cool images to people who have little disposable income or awareness of marketing ploys. But if it's there anyway...

on a related note: I just saw elsewhere that some (girly type) magazines are wising up to the better distribution system of softdrinks and making mini-magazines to be stuck on softdrink bottle labels. Perhaps well presented (hip) messages with FMCGs in LDCs then?
Or a condom stuck in the concave hollow under each coke can? S.e.x sells, apparently.

Bob C:

Coca Cola is not refrigerated when shipped. He is talking about the advertising. That's why they chose the header that uses the three or four year old obsolete slogan/song.

People in developing countries want to live like you and I. Start with that thought. Change the way you live and they will too.


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