Campaign: Viz cartoonist helps antibiotics initiative

Campaign Moxy Malone, Antibiotics Awareness Client Tyne and Wear Health Action Zone PR team In-house Timescale January 2004-ongoing Budget £25,000

According to the Government, the UK is beset with a problem of overprescribing antibiotics.

Despite being ineffectual against viruses, many patients wrongly see them as a magic cure for common ailments such as flu and GPs often feel pressured into prescribing their use, at great cost to the NHS.

To encourage better understanding of antibiotics, local health partnership group Tyne and Wear Health Action Zone decided to launch a campaign across five Primary Care Trusts (PCT) in its area.

Objectives

To reduce the amount of inappropriate antibiotics prescriptions by GPs.

Strategy and Plan

For the campaign to succeed, Tyne and Wear believed it was vital to explain why it is wrong to demand antibiotics for the treatment of viruses when their correct use is to combat bacteria.

The team felt this needed to be done in a light-hearted way and therefore created the character of Moxy Malone: Antibiotics Detective. Viz cartoonist Steve Donald was commissioned to create Moxy. The locally based artist provided not just an identifiable character to explain a complex scientific message, but also an important angle.

A launch, involving a cardboard cut-out of Moxy, took place on 19 January 2004 and local pharmacists and GPs were made available for interviews with local media.

The story was given to local TV outlets first as it was felt the involvement of Donald and the visual impact of Moxy would provide the greatest immediate impact. To keep the story alive over a number of weeks, local radio stations were encouraged to use antibiotics overprescription as a phone-in topic. Local newspaper health columns were also targeted.

Another angle pushed was the long-term healthcare problems caused by bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics the more they are used. GPs and pharmacists were targeted through trade journals, prescribing protocols and presentations.

It was vital to involve local health practitioners, especially as Moxy was also used on posters and life-size cut-outs in surgery waiting rooms.

Measurement and Evaluation

The coverage was evaluated in-house and, according to Tyne and Wear campaigns director Elaine Wilson, it was all positive.

Coverage included an item involving the cut-out of Moxy as well as vox-pops with health practitioners on the BBC’s Look North. Newspapers

covering the story included the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Newcastle Journal and six weekly papers. Radio coverage included Century FM.

An independent awareness survey was carried out in GPs’ surgeries and town centre locations, which showed a 34 per cent level of awareness of Moxy and the campaign’s messages.

Results

Since January 2004, prescription of antibiotics has decreased by eight per cent across the PCT areas that took part. One of those, South Tyneside PCT, achieved an 18 per cent decrease.

‘The involvement of Donald lifted the campaign above the basic healthcare messages you get,’ says BBC North health correspondent Anne Kostalas.

The campaign has since been relaunched to cover an expanded area in the North-East.

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