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A campaign to eradicate elephantiasis

The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's attempt to eliminate lymphatic filariasis or elephantiasis has resulted in a vibrant creative campaign to ensure a filaria-free country

India was certified polio-free in 2014. In an attempt to achieve its next public health victory with the elimination of lymphatic filariasis, a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) that threatens nearly half of its population, the Indian Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW) has launched one of the largest public health campaigns to provide more than 400 million people with free medication that could protect them from lymphatic filariasis.

A grab from the video to eradicate filaria in India
A grab from the video to eradicate filaria in India

Lymphatic filariasis, also called filaria or elephantiasis, can cause horrible disability and disfigurement among those infected. The disease has high prevalence and serious complications, but its prevention is easy. The MOHFW, however, has faced difficulties in combating the disease. Many are complacent when it comes to prevention; in part because of apathy towards the disease and the length of time it takes to manifest itself (8-10 years).

Filaria-free India
The MOHFW partnered with the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (Global Network), an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, to lead the development of a branded public service advertising campaign (PSA) called “Hathipaon Mukt Bharat” (Filaria Free India) in close coordination with the MOHFW’s National Vector Borne Disease Control Program. This creative campaign and promotional plan supports the government's massive effort to deliver preventive medication to high-risk communities within 17 states, including four states that comprise nearly two-thirds of the lymphatic filariasis burden in India: Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. They engaged Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai and Little Lamb Productions to execute the development of the creative campaign. Just under half of India’s total population is at risk of lymphatic filariasis (also known ‘Hathipaon’) in India, but very few believe they are at risk of infection.

The video begins with a group of villagers finding large footprints on a mud path and following it out of curiosity. “A key objective of the campaign was not to create fear, panic or for it to be a tear-jerker but to positively motivate,” says Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy Mumbai. “We believe that a patient playing an active role and saying that it may be too late for him, but others should take heed and protect themselves, would drive the message home; we took care to portray him as an everyman with a family — and not someone who is isolated and relegated to the margins of society,” he adds.

Art director Prasun Basu created high-quality silicon prosthetics from a photograph of an actual filaria patient to make sure the legs were replicas of a real-life patient’s legs and no exaggeration of features was done. The music is one of the high points of the video. The team selected a neutral language, Sanskrit, for the musical score, for mass appeal.

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