Antibiotic awareness drives digital conversation in European countries

The use of social and other digital media – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, text messages, video and websites – for health messaging is growing rapidly in the WHO European Region. All 19 of the non-EU countries that participated in the first World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) in 2015 used digital media to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance. This marks a tremendous change from a couple of years earlier, when only around 10% of these countries used digital media to promote campaigns.

Digital media use in European countries

Since 2012, WHO and its Member States have used various forms of digital media to heighten awareness of antibiotic resistance, most recently during WAAW in November 2015. WAAW continues and broadens the scope of the European Antibiotic Awareness Day, a European initiative that WHO/Europe joined in 2012.

Countries created special Facebook pages; some developed videos to be shown on national TV during prime time; and others featured special campaign websites. Additionally, a few countries initiated collaboration with telecommunication companies. Some of the activities are described below. 

  • In Armenia, text messages about antibiotic use were sent to all mobile phone users via two large telecommunication companies. In addition, flash mobs were arranged at some universities.
  • In the Republic of Moldova, the National Centre for Public Health collaborated with a private mobile phone company to send text messages on antibiotic resistance to all mobile phone users. 
  • The Czech Republic's National Institute of Public Health placed advocacy videos on their YouTube channel as well as in hospitals, in collaboration with WHO. 
  • The Estonian Health Board (Terviseamet team) created a web site and a social media campaign.
  • Lithuania also used a campaign website and a Facebook page; in addition, short films on preventing antibiotic resistance were shown on public transport. 
  • Slovakia prepared video spots with microbiologists, infectious disease specialists and WHO experts and shared an official campaign website.

Digital campaigning for WAAW 

The new emphasis on digital media doesn't surprise Maya Mateshvili, who coordinated the Georgian National Centre for Disease Control's communication activities with WHO/Europe during WAAW. "We live in a digital era, with ever-increasing numbers of people around the world using digital media. It's hard to imagine a modern campaign without it. Digital media allow us to spread useful public health information and to interact directly with our target audience." 

Georgia built the momentum in the weeks leading up to WAAW, posting related materials and videos featuring well-known health care professionals. Facebook is among the top three websites used daily by Georgians and is especially popular among young urban professionals and other young people. The National Centre for Disease Control posted live updates and photos on Facebook and used news agencies to spread information online; the most popular WAAW Twitter post was seen up to 700 times, with 1500 views of over 60 tweets posted during the week. WAAW videos and posts on Facebook were viewed over 24 000 times. 

In Turkey, the Ministry of Health held a national symposium to increase awareness about antimicrobial resistance among both health professionals and the public. The event was used to share messages on social media, and the Minister's statement was posted on the official website, Facebook and Twitter. 

Social media are widely used to communicate directly with the public in Ukraine and were chosen as a major platform for engagement during WAAW. The WHO Office in Ukraine used Twitter to spread information on antimicrobial resistance; one message proved particularly popular, with 454 re-tweets.

A popular topic on WHO/Europe's social media channels

Antibiotic resistance generates strong interest on Facebook, accounting for two of the five most popular posts since the WHO/Europe Facebook page was created in 2011. Its popularity may be due to its relevance in multiple sectors and industries and because it concerns everyone in Europe.

In 2015, WAAW sparked considerable communication on Twitter. Between 16 and 22 November 2015, @WHO_Europe was viewed more than 3 million times – almost 1 million more than in 2014. All top 10 tweets of the week focused on antibiotic awareness. Activities included a joint Twitter chat with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency. Overall, it proved to be one of the top 10 most active weeks for @WHO_Europe during 2015.