Why do we advocate?
Improving public health laws and policies benefits entire populations. Policies shape the environments where people live, making it easier for all people to stay healthy and to keep health systems sustainable and resilient.
Unfortunately, even when evidence exists that certain policies are effective, political leaders may not adopt, prioritize or implement them unless citizens bring them to their attention—and let them know they expect the leaders to take action.
Advocacy is often essential for positive policy change. It’s also sometimes necessary to ensure people have a say in shaping the policies that affect their lives.
“What I see in Brazil is the true activism of people who dedicate their lives to building a better society and to protecting the current and future generations from harmful commercial practices that threaten the right to food and the right to health,” Mariana de Araujo Ferraz, Brazil Country Coordinator for the Global Health Advocacy Incubator’s Obesity Prevention Program, says.
The Global Health Advocacy Incubator supports civil society organizations advocating for laws and policies that reduce death and disease. We support advocates for cardiovascular health, preventing epidemics, road safety, healthy food policy, drowning prevention, better health data, and maternal and reproductive health.
We advocate for public health policies because:
Policy change improves health outcomes and reduces strains on health systems.
For example, policies requiring front-of-package warning labels that inform consumers about the nutritional content of food products are linked to decreased purchases of sugary beverages—and they may also encourage manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their food.
The impacts are population-wide.
In Vietnam, where drowning is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 15, a Drowning Prevention program that engages public agencies reached 16,000 children and their families during its first year, with education or information on water safety skills.
The impact is cost-effective.
The health impact of population-wide policies can be more cost-effective than, but also contribute to, individual-level interventions. For example, in Tanzania, where one woman dies every hour from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, often because she lives far from health services, a Maternal and Reproductive Health program in the Kigoma region helped increase the percentage of facility-based deliveries from 48% to 77%–preventing an estimated 1,100 maternal deaths. This was the result of many factors, including upgrading health facilities, training health workers—and aligning with public priorities to save mothers’ and newborns’ lives.
Policies shape social norms.
Policies influence social norms, and this can provide can long-lasting benefits. For example, adult smoking prevalence in the United States declined 44% between 1997 (the year our parent organization, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, began advocating) and 2018, as tobacco control policies influenced perceptions of tobacco’s costs and benefits.
Our experience demonstrates that policy change can save lives and improve health. To be most effective, it must be locally led and sustained. Our role is to enhance the ability of advocates to create the change they envision.