stopsmokingBarbados is set to be the testing ground for a small US-funded project looking at the effectiveness of a technology driven campaign targeting smokers.

Discussions on the mobile health campaign, which will be led by the Barbados Cancer Society and facilitated by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition are currently ongoing with the National Institute of Cancer and the Department of Health and Human Services in the US aimed at getting smokers to quit.

“It is an m-health text campaign in which you sign up smokers over a period of two to six weeks where they receive supportive messages to quit smoking. So the National Institute of Cancer and the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to pilot this programme in the Caribbean and then they contacted the HCC to be able to do that based on the Get The Message experience,” said HCC Manager Maisha Hutton in an interview this morning.

The Get The Message experience was the first Caribbean-wide, mass media campaign piloted by the HCC aimed at disseminating information about Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases, using everything from trucks going into rural neighbourhoods in Haiti with PA system blasting the information and encouraging people to text the numbers indicated, to more technologically savvy texting platforms in Barbados and Trinidad among other countries. It was also one of the programmes the HCC noted that it received tremendous support and was a rousing success across all platforms.

Given that experience, Hutton said the US had been hoping to use that as a springboard to get the SmokeFreeTXT campaign going as a pilot in two countries, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, but funding challenges and technical issues had restricted it to this country alone.

“We have a local administrator working with the folks in the US around the technical aspects of it. We are working with the Barbados Cancer Society, they are our local implementing partner who will be assisting with recruitment and that is meant to kick off in June,” she said.

Given that it would be a small pilot of about 50 to 60 persons, Hutton said initially they did not expect a great opposition or challenge from tobacco interests, but it was something she said they were aware could arise pending on the success of the initial study. While there was not a heavy scientific study component to the pilot, she said the idea was to find out if the logistics of such a campaign was feasible in the Caribbean.

“In the very first instance we might be under the radar. We are going to advertise it and let people know. It is only going to be 50 to 60 people at first and it is an opportunity for us to see if technically this can work in the Caribbean, how receptive the Caribbean culture is to this type of programme and then does it actually work.

“The third pillar, does it actually work, we don’t have a sample that’s strong enough, a robust sample, to really test it… but if it does succeed technically and we get an idea that culturally people are receptive to this type of programme, then the Department of Health and Human Services is willing to fund a Caribbean wide scale up of that initiative come September or October.

“So it is quite exciting and I think then we might have to worry about any possible backlash from the tobacco industry, but World Tobacco Day is coming up and the theme this year is No Advertising, so we are going to be doing our part to disseminate materials and rally in supporting any organisations that commit to no advertising,” she said. (LB)

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