“Society pays a lot of attention to neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, and other diseases that can easily capture an audience’s interest. Other devastating diseases are victims of invisibility, like tuberculosis, the Cinderella of marketing,” wrote Imma Monsó in La Vanguardia. Or as the great Keith Jarrett once said, “Everything is marketing.”
The stakeholders surrounding a particular disease need to understand that diseases must be marketed in order to secure resources, to get patients to follow treatment, and to raise awareness about prevention.
We recently conducted a study to find out which diseases spark the greatest interest among Spaniards: in first place was cancer, followed by AIDS, leprosy, Alzheimer’s disease and anorexia. Let’s compare these results with the list of the most common diseases: in first place, obesity, followed by anorexia, cancer, asthma and AIDS. The public’s level of scientific literacy is low, but we must remember that understanding follows motivation. Only when people believe they can get something out of knowledge will they make an effort to acquire it.
Gaining knowledge about health essentially depends on the media – that “old goat”, in Norman Mailer’s metaphor, that eats tidbits, gristle and garbage cans but eventually expels stories that seduce readers. The media know how to emphasise the patient’s human side, and in so doing they achieve an applied understanding of the difference between disease (that which doctors detect and treat), illness (the subjective experience of health changes and their consequences), and sickness (the “sick role” played by the afflicted individual).
People’s beliefs are the main factors that determine their health-related behaviour. Healthcare and social-marketing professionals should therefore aim to bring invisible diseases out of the shadows – even if it means mounting endless telethons.