Students launch health campaign to educate about black fever in India

A communications class developed the campaign that will appear in Bihar.

Elena Rozwadowski

In his last semester at the University, political science and communications senior Kyle Potter said he finally gets to turn his hours of schoolwork into something that will make a difference.

“A lot of people say the problem with college is that you get everything in theory, and you don’t get any practical experience,” Potter said.

Potter is one of 16 students who helped create a public-health campaign in their communications class this semester, a campaign that turns that theory into a real-life work experience.

The campaign created by professor Ascan Koerner’s students is meant to educate youths in rural Bihar, India, about black fever, a preventable but devastating disease that results in at least 200,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The campaign will kick off with a fundraiser tonight in Coffman Union.

“It is affecting a population that is illiterate and that doesn’t have a spokesperson,” Koerner said.

While most classes at the University only simulate these kinds of projects, Koerner is using his class, The Process of Persuasion (Comm 5431), to create a real campaign that will begin this summer.

“I moved the whole course into a much more realistic setting,” Koerner said. “It allows us to correct assumptions we’re making about how persuasion works.

“It’s a target-based phenomenon focused on the audience,” he said.

Black fever, known in Hindi as kala-azar, is caused by parasites spread through the bite of a tiny insect called a sand fly. While the disease is curable, treatment is expensive and takes more than a month to administer. Without treatment, black fever is fatal.

“This is a preventable disease,” Koerner said.

Earlier this semester the class split into two teams, with six students developing a local campaign and 10 creating the educational campaign for Bihar that eventually will be launched in India.

The local campaign will host a fundraiser tonight that members have been putting together for the past couple of months. The evening will include presentations from the class and entertainment from Indian dance groups and musicians playing traditional and modern Indian music.

Communications senior Amy Yamashiro said the event has been a really big challenge to plan with the rest of her busy schedule in her last semester at the University.

“It’s getting down to the nitpicky things like who can provide the plates and silverware and linen or what kind of entertainment would keep the audience’s attention, things like that are the challenge,” Yamashiro said.

The other 10 students, including senior Kyle Potter, have been working on the Bihar campaign, creating brochures, a picture book and even a skit to help educate children and their families.

“Illiteracy rates are pretty high there,” Potter said. “So we want to focus a lot on the visual and the oral aspects of it.”

One of the biggest challenges the teams have faced during the project has been working with the cultural difference, forcing them to consider everything from the appearance of housing to local superstition in creating the international campaign.

“We don’t want to take anything for granted by using our own standards,” Potter said. “We have to completely get rid of any assumptions we might make.”