According to the World Health Organization, 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral infection with no approved preventive vaccine. Initially, dengue produces flu-like symptoms and when left untreated, it can become life-threatening. In Sri Lanka alone, there were an estimated 30,000 cases of dengue last year. In an effort to do their part to help, Sri Lankan national newspaper Mawbima and advertising agency giant Leo Burnet teamed up on an innovative campaign that proved print media is alive and stronger than ever.
Their anti-dengue campaign was launched alongside National Dengue Week and culminated in the sale of the world’s first mosquito-repellent newspaper. Throughout the week, citronella-coated posters were installed at bus stops and educational articles promoting dengue awareness were printed in Mawbima. Finally, on World Health Day (April 7, 2014), the first citronella-infused newspapers hit the stands. By 10am, the edition had sold out, representing a 30 percent sales increase — 300,000 more people — in the paper’s readership.
This simple, yet highly effective idea involved mixing ink with citronella essence to ensure every printed word also acted as a mosquito repellent. Mawbima recognized that the time of day when people are reading the newspaper, early morning and evening, are the same times the dengue-carrying Aedes aegyptimosquito strikes, which made it the perfect platform to effect change. Bug nets, while effective against malaria, do little to protect against daytime dengue mosquitoes so devising more effective prevention strategies like this one is vital.
Mawbima and Leo Burnett succeeded at spreading awareness while curbing the spread of dengue, and certainly created a lot of buzz in the process. To have any long-term impact, the paper would need to be citronella-infused every day and it is currently unclear whether that is financially or logistically feasible. If it was financially sustainable, it is an approach that could easily be replicated in other tropical and sub-tropical climates where dengue fever is most prevalent. At the very least, it represents a highly creative and innovative approach to a serious global health issue.
To learn more about the Mawbima case study, click here.