"Social media can have benefits for public health’ says Yarishdy, ‘we can reach 200 people with a virtual session, when we could only reach about ten before. It makes our work more visible, but there are negatives too. Whilst we are reaching a lot of vulnerable youth, we are probably missing some of the most hard-to-reach, as they just don’t have access to the technology. We have to be aware that the answer to public health is not to exclusively go digital, the answer is creative forward thinking and technology can play an important role. The main thing is to stay flexible, find new solutions and use technology to engage with young people, not just push information at them.”
The Young Health Programme in Mexico was launched in 2019, and is focused on ensuring that young people practice fewer NCD risk behaviours in some of Mexico City’s most under-resourced districts. To develop and deliver the programme, YHP partnered with Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian assistance non-profit organisation, that works hand-in-hand with a local non-profit Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo, the Mexican Institute for Family and Population Research. At the outset, YHP Mexico aimed to reach more than 46,000 young people directly and over 100,000 people through campaigns over 3 years. Just halfway through the programme, the teams at Project HOPE and Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo had already reached over 300,000 people – and this number continues to grow. Project HOPE is incredibly proud of the digital adaptations the YHP community and YHP Mexico has made to ensure that programming was able to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the challenges and stress placed on organisations, employees and participants during global lockdowns.
In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the need for social distancing struck right at the heart of the programme’s face-to-face peer education methodology. They could either pause all programme activities or adapt, and adapt fast. They chose to adapt. They at least had the benefit of a little time.
Andrea Dunne-Sosa, Project HOPE’s Americas Regional Director, explains: “We learned from our COVID-19 response operations in other countries and anticipated what was coming for Mexico. We talked to our field colleagues before the school closures began, to understand what the impact could be and what we should do. We had to be flexible and to innovate to a virtual program - but the big question was how to engage the young people and to keep them engaged.”
Andrea and the Project HOPE team adopted an innovation mindset and encouraged their local partner Yo Quiero, Yo Puedo to research what technology was reasonably accessible and test ideas and tools that could be developed quickly - while at the same time being interactive and engaging for young people.
The Mexico Young Health Programme team identified innovative ways to transition the game-based curriculum to a fun and dynamic virtual program, utilizing interactive technologies to engage youth and encourage their active participation.
When it came to global advocacy days which usually involve large in-person events, such as World No Tobacco Day, the YHP Mexico team decided to put a digital spin on it – and created new social media accounts before the event in May 2020. By International Youth Day in August, the operation was in full swing with an accent on youth involvement. Young people were asked to share videos and photos about how they were coping with the pandemic, and listened to their peers’ views on COVID-19, health, and mental wellness through the internet. This information was communicated out via a webinar with representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Mexican Youth Institute and an expert on innovative technologies. The recorded webinar has been viewed a quarter of a million times to date.
For World No Alcohol Day in October, the focus moved to discussing peer pressure, and World Diabetes Day was an opportunity for young people to ask the experts about health tips. Each event had a new angle and a new way to keep young people involved and share their voices through the Young Health Programme.