November 2008

Meet Our Featured Guest Columnist:
Dr. Farag Elkamel

is dean of the school of communication at Ahram Canadian University, Egypt. He specializes in the use of the mass media to promote health messages. In 1983, he launched a television campaign to promote Oral Rehydration Therapy, a treatment for dehydration. The campaign is considered one of the most successful educational projects ever undertaken—during the first four years, the number of children dying from diarrheal diseases more than halved.

Q: What does "health and human rights" mean to you?

A: Women and children are commonly the weakest segments economically and politically, especially in less developed countries. They are at the same time victims for numerous health problems that have several causes, including this exact weakness.

Q: How/why did you get involved in global health issues?

A: As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was fortunate to be introduced to this field by my professor, Dr. Donald J. Bogue, who gave me the opportunity to work with him at the University of Chicago Community and Family Study Center (CFSC). After I returned to Egypt, the national program for the prevention and control of child dehydration was just beginning, and I was fortunate again to be hired by the program as the communication expert/and campaign director. When this program achieved remarkable international recognition, the World Health Organization in Geneva hired me to help develop and implant communication strategies and programs for global AIDS awareness and control. In the meantime, I worked with UNICEF as Senior Communication Adviser for the Egyptian Polio Eradication Program, which succeeded in eradicating polio from Egypt, and declaring the country polio free in 2005.

Q: How was the Egypt campaign different to other projects to introduce the use of Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT)?

A: Before Egypt, only Gambia and Honduras had begun similar projects, but media campaigns I those two countries only used radio and posters. A major difference is that Egypt had a more complex media system, and it was Egypt which used the first TV spots in the world for ORT.

Q: Describe some of the successes you have seen in your work.

A: My masters thesis proved that educational videos can raise awareness of the PAP test among poor American women.

My ORT campaign proved that poverty and even illiteracy shouldn't prevent mothers from learning to use ORT effectively.

My work with the polio eradication campaign showed that communication can change beliefs, attitudes and practices, and change a situation that had existed in a country for thousands of years (polio was recorded on pharaonic stelae more than 3000 years ago).
I have also learned from working in almost fifteen different countries that communication can succeed anywhere in the world, if it is planned and implemented correctly.

Q: What are some of the challenges affecting the health of children?


  • Lack of political will and commitment among national decision makers.
  • Inefficient use of media and other public education networks which waste scarce resources.

Q: How can young people make a difference?


  • Believe that they can help make a difference.
  • Being innovative and creative.
  • Learning from successful experiences.