Your mobile caller tune will now dispense preventive tips to tackle lifestyle diseases, courtesy a countrywide awareness campaign by WHO

After China, India has the world’s largest number of mobile phone users. Among other customer facilities, the option to choose one’s personal caller tune has become extremely popular. According to Department of Telecommunications sources, the facility has earned the operators Rs. 8,185 crore in the three years ending March 2012.

Taking cognisance of this wide reach and popularity of caller tunes, World Health Organisation (WHO) has just tailored a country-wide lifestyle awareness campaign named “Donate Your Caller Tune”. All major service providers have been roped in to make available the WHO caller tunes which have easy-to-follow preventive tips to tackle lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, cardiac problems, etc. in the voice of Bollywood actors.

“It is perhaps the first of its kind initiative using mobile devices to spread awareness on health issues. The idea came up because we felt that the mobile device is a very powerful tool (in India) for spreading awareness. According to industry estimates, on an average a person receives around 15 phone calls a day, making the space of caller tune an untapped area for promoting health causes,” says Dr. Nada Menabde, WHO Representative in India. “As we all know there is a growing burden of non-communicable diseases, a large proportion of which can be prevented by modifying behavioural risk factors, be it unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco products, etc. The Donate Your Caller Tune is a step in that direction,” she says.

Considering the wide influence of Bollywood, a clutch of actors have been roped in to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles. “Celebrities have proven to be good ambassadors for various causes, their involvement adds a lot of value to the campaign,” Dr. Menabde states.

The actors have lent their voices for the campaign for free. “A select number of popular stars were approached; all agreed to support us barring a few where the schedules didn’t work out.” The list so far features names like Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, John Abraham, Parineeti Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Madhavan, Cyrus Barocha, Shankar Mahadevan and Shaan. “We expect many more celebrities, including sports stars in the days to come,” she adds.

Dr. Menabde categorically states that the campaign is not a fund-raising initiative. “It only aims at urging people to replace their original caller tunes with the specially created simple health message tunes or to subscribe to them in case they don’t have a caller tune already.” She calls it a “symbolic donation”. Major service providers like Tata DoCoMo, BSNL, Uninor and Airtel are on board. “Vodafone will be joining the campaign shortly.”

The pilot campaign, which was launched in the Capital recently by Dr. Menabde in the presence of Union Health Secretary K.N. Desiraju, will be evaluated to check its impact. “Lessons learnt from assessing its impact will be useful not just for us in India but also in taking this to other parts of the world,” she says.

Talking about India meeting health goals, she paints a positive picture. “There have been major investments made in health and some quite impressive achievements in the advancement towards the Millennium Development Goals in reducing child/infant mortality and in improving maternal health. However, it is important that we don’t become complacent but build on it and overcome the existing challenges.”

While many communicable diseases have been addressed to, along with their determinants such as sanitation, water and education, there has also been an increase in non-communicable diseases which till recently have been looked at as diseases of richer countries and richer societies. “So these days we are certainly talking about the global burden of diseases, which is double in India — communicable and non-communicable diseases. Non-communicable conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases already account for more than half the deaths in India and they are expected to increase in the years to come. It is in this context that preventive measures like this awareness campaign assume importance,” Dr. Menabde underlines.

Another important issue on the table, she states, “is universal health coverage and universal health equity, which is a fundamental issue as it takes into consideration the need to ensure that people have access to a whole range of services like health promotion, treatment and rehabilitation. And that this access should be equitable, which means that those who need it most or who are more deprived are given greater opportunities to compensate for that disadvantage they face.” Here she points out, “Equity is strongly linked with human rights and is a very important factor that determines the social and economic stability of countries.”

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