Infotainment in diabetes education - Alma MockYen educates while she entertains on the leading health topic
Have you ever seen anyone receive a standing ovation and unanimous applause at a medical conference? Well, Alma MockYen - noted broadcaster, radio and television producer, dramatist and media trainer - received one!
MockYen had just delivered a house-rocking presentation on 'Infotainment in Diabetes Education' on the second day of the 24th Annual International Diabetes Conference April 25-28, held at the Jewel Resort, Runaway Bay, and hosted by the University Diabetes Outreach Programme (UDOP). The presentation was the 18th in the series of the Sir Philip Sherlock Distinguished Lectures.
The octogenarian who moments before had graciously accepted the 2018 Sir Philip Sherlock Distinguished Award for "outstanding and pioneering innovations in the promotion of Diabetes Awareness in Jamaica and the Caribbean" explained how UDOP had used the infotainment approach to get its message across to the public via radio and television.
MockYen, who was based at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Radio Education Unit on the Mona campus, was the producer of all of the UDOP dramas and dialogues.
"Infotainment", she explained, is a contraction of the words 'information' and 'entertainment' and uses humour as its main tool.
MockYen's main message was clear. "The effective communication approach for diabetes or anything else is to Grab with the title ... Hold with the content ... Remind as necessary and always Reward".
MockYen's lecture was laced with humour from start to finish and was itself a perfect example of entertaining while disseminating information.
'Death is the number one killer!'
From early comments that "Death is the number one killer" and "Life is sexually transmitted", to the amusing Big Boy story with which she wrapped up her talk, the audience was kept enthralled. She mixed hard facts about diabetes itself, with how psychologists view laughter as a "weapon against despair and suffering".
She outlined Infotainment's origin in 1922 with Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and later with the USA's Sesame Street in 1973. She drew attention to Miguel Sabido's use of infotainment in his Telenovelas, Mexico's operas for social change, and how infotainment was adopted by India, Peru, Kenya, and China soon after that.
In establishing the versatility of the Infotainment approach, she recalled a list of the productions in which she used the technique successfully in our Jamaican media from 1977-1995:
- 'Workers World' (1977) - produced for the Caribbean on the theme, 'Labour Education'.
- 'Having a Ball' (1987) - for the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliate for Teenagers on safe sex and family planning.
- 'What's My Role' (1988) - in recognition of UNECO's annual salute to persons in the work force at all levels. It won the Press Association of Jamaica's Award for "exemplary work in radio production, demonstrating professional standards in the Jamaica media".
- 'On the Alert' (1990): with Dr Errol Morrison, UDOP director and president of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica. (DAJ). Although broadcast on JBC Radio on first and third Sundays only, and on RJR on second and fourth Sundays, Market Research Services, Jamaica, established that the series enjoyed a 13% share of overall listenership.
- 'On the Alert' enjoyed the highest ranking of programmes broadcast between 1.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. on Sundays, in spite of its irregular transmissions. It was awarded the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) prize for Best Public Service Programme for 1990.
- 'Kowaiti Bay' (1991) - a radio drama in 50 parts competed with 'Top 10' music and 'Greetings' programmes. The reliable pollster, the late Professor Carl Stone, wrote that "The Diabetes Association of Jamaica listenership represents 37.3 % of the total number of regular radio listeners ...an impressive size and reach for programmes broadcast on alternate weeks only."
- 'Science Serving Us' (1995) - a series of 104 radio programmes. In the first year of its broadcast it received 2000 letters and won the PAHO/WHO award for 1995.
MockYen showed her audience television clips of Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and Ministry of Health advertisements to demonstrate how "the cultural relevance and impact of Jamaican storytelling, when wrapped into local drama, spiced with jokes and touches of irreverence, is an approach more likely to engage an audience whose concepts and values they consider generally ignored". She explained, however, that the television examples fell more into a strategy known as 'Sugaring the Pill' than into the extended Infotainment format.
Laughter is social and contagious
She wished keynote speaker, Dr Andrew Wheatley, minister of science, energy and technology, well in his plans to introduce new technology to serve diabetics, free from power outages, theft and other glitches.
Regarding the appeal by UDOP planning committee member, endocrinologist, Professor Wright-Pascoe-Williams for increased education of the diabetic community, MockYen said that, "Since the 1990s, there have been few Infotainment type series, perhaps because it requires the joint effort of the medical professional to leave the comfort zone of office or clinic and venture into the swirling eddies of media proposal, planning, preparation, production and presentation and an available studio in which to work".
She struck a warning note that "some individuals think laughter in the face of suffering is inappropriate", but that psychologists see laughter as "a means by which we encourage ourselves when confronted with setbacks", because laughter is social and contagious.
The 2018 Sir Philip Sherlock Distinguished Lecturer and Awardee mentioned new treatments for persons with diabetes, for example, "combo or double-drugs for type two diabetics, from medication to surgery, to high-tech devices, even to implanting a new pancreas" ... but the Big Boy story, along with the serious comments that ended her presentation will not be forgotten.
MockYen invited Professor Errol Morrison to come to the podium to receive his share of the accolades, stating that the audience of the drama series 'On the Alert' so loved his laughter as the doctor giving advice they were encouraged with their diabetes.