For many Internet users, social media have become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. A large number of online users prefer to get their news and other relevant information through what others, including news agencies post on social media.
As a result, it has become a daily routine for many people, especially parents, to complain about the “fixation” of young people on their smartphones and social media. They feel a surge of anxiety about the dangers social media and technology pose to the future of millennials. I must admit that I used to belong to this school of thought but I have come to accept that social media is part of evolution. Naturally, we abhor any opinion that contradicts status quo – what we are used to. So it is understandable why many think social media is a time bomb.
The most overwhelming thing about social media is its reach. Through social media, the world has become a real global village thereby bringing us closer to the audience we seek. If social media were countries, they would make up 7 out of the 10 largest countries in the world by population.
In recent times, we have seen social media exert outstanding influence on the real world through various harshtag advocacies, including medical advocacy. Since social media have a huge presence in our lives, it is only right that we apply social media to our health and well being.
Yesterday, I read about the 12-year old Indian boy, Sparsh Shah, who broke the Internet with his own rendition of Eminem cover ‘Not Afraid’. What caught my attention was the song but I was astonished when I watched the video. The boy uses a wheelchair because he suffers from a rare disease of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a disease I had never heard of. With the help of social media, he was able to get his message across; letting the world know about his talent, disease condition and resilience.
The most successful health awareness campaign on social media so far remains the #IceBucketChallenge. This helped raise $115 million for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease – a motor neurone disorder that attacks nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.
Social media has also helped in tackling the cancer scourge. In 2014, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the world’s largest independent cancer research and awareness charity, raised over $13m in six days through Twitter and Facebook from the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign. They asked women to post selfies without makeup on social media using the hashtag #NoMakeupSelfie. The money generated has since been reinvested into clinical trials and breakthrough discoveries that will eventually lead to novel interventions for patients.
This got me thinking of ways we can harness social media properly and change the medical landscape in Nigeria. The power of social media to bring patients, clinicians, scientists, advocates, innovators and financiers in the country to the same table is fairly underutilised.
It is speculated that about 100,000 new cancer cases occur annually in Nigeria. As a consequence, it is dire that we act fast and nip it at the bud. Using social media, we can create awareness about the disease and also promote researches into cancers affecting Nigerians.
Online surveys on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can go a long way to ascertain public awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of most common cancers in Nigeria. Many Nigerians are averse to paying a visit to hospitals when they notice a symptom; they often wait until their medical conditions deteriorate. This online campaign will help in sensitising people to become aware of the risk factors and symptoms of the disease thereby increasing early detection of the disease. Early detection helps a patient to seek medical treatment early enough to boost chances of survival.
Also, encouraging cancer patients in the country to share their stories and experiences via social media can go a long way to dispel the myth that cancer is a spiritual disease and help others to understand the magnitude of the disease. This can also spur online readers to donate money to fund treatment and research institutes/groups striving to find a cure for different types of cancers, including HIV/AIDS-related cancers.
Listening to patients, who are living with specific cancers speak publicly about their experience via Facebook pages, tweetchats, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and websites, can also be therapeutic for other patients. It creates an avenue for them to come together and form support groups or even charity organisations or companies around cancer.
However, there are risks involved with using social media in rapid spread of information about cancer in the country. There’s an abundance of information on the social media, some of which could be too much for some or inaccurate or misleading. Despite its shortcomings, I sincerely believe that someday social media will lead the change we desperately need in the Nigerian health sector as one of the tools that can help deal with cancer and its impact.