“What factors influence the attention and support that issues in global health receive from governments and the population in general?” This was something that I was thinking about this morning on my way to hot yoga, before putting myself through a grueling hour long session of contorting my body into unfamiliar positions whilst avoiding slipping on the pooled sweat from myself and the lady next to me. It has been suggested, in a paper by Jeremy Schiffman, that the reasons lie within a ‘social constructionist paradigm’, whereby there exists an interaction between an idea and the way in which it is portrayed, an institution backing that idea and the people who decide which ideas or issues to adopt and champion (Schiffman 2009). But which of these is the most important, and which can be manipulated the most?
Which of the following would you most likely back: A policy presented by a politician or scientist that could reduce the rate of HIV transmission using a new breakthrough, affordable and tested technology, or a policy aimed at anything else that was backed by David Beckham, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates?! The status and profile of the actor supporting a policy can have a huge impact upon its resonance and success. If a celebrity puts their name behind a charity or a policy, then in return that brings with it many advantages including increased publicity, establishment of credibility, and often great financial rewards. You only need to look as far as http://www.looktothestars.org to see just how much of an effect celebrities can have.
Celebrity endorsement is a powerful factor, that cannot be disputed, yet it also comes with many risks. Take for example the recent Tiger Woods saga which lead to a huge decline in his public rating. If he had been a strong proponent for the fight against poverty, then his personal reputation could have had a detrimental effect upon the overall campaign.
Thankfully the strength of the institution putting forward an idea for a policy, and the voice of the actor backing that institution, are not the only factors that determine which policy is selected by governments or international organizations (or else we’d all back whatever the most popular celebrity was supporting at the time!). It cannot be disputed though, that celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Bill Gates and many more, play a very large role in setting agendas by lending their voice, time and resources to different causes. They can be very persuasive – in fact, come to think of it, the reason why I went to hot yoga this morning was all because I read that David Beckham and George Clooney do it too!
Shiffman, J. (2009) “A social explanation for the rise and fall of global health issues.” Bulletin of the World Health 87: 608-613.