A baby is treated during Phila immunisation week.
“IT’S the cheapest method of feeding newborns, it promotes bonding between the mother and baby... children that are breastfed also don’t get as many allergies.”

This message about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding is given in a YouTube video by Masego, a health worker at a Pretoria clinic.

The video forms part of a new National Department of Health initiative, Phila.

Phila was recently launched by the department as a “revolution” to change the country’s thinking and practices around healthy lifestyles.

It also interrogates issues around non-communicable diseases such HIV/Aids, TB, violence and trauma, as well as child and women’s health through providing educational information around them.

The motivation for this initiative is clear and glaring - according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, half of South Africans aged 15 years and older are classified as overweight and 12% of men and 40% of women are obese.

And so the department is taking its healthy living message to where millions of locals live and thrive - the internet, every Thursday with the hashtag, #PhilaThursdays.

We spoke to the department’s director of communications, Foster Mohale, about how and why the initiative came about.

How is this programme different to other wellness education campaigns done in the public health sector?

(The) Phila campaign addresses the quadruple burden of disease that the country is currently faced with. The campaign recognises that the body of one person can be affected by any or all of these diseases. For example, if a person is HIV positive, they can still get TB, diabetes, or be involved in any form of trauma.

A new way of communicating this health challenge had to be thoroughly thought about... a campaign that would inspire the public in general to think and act on their health in an integrated manner.

Therefore the Phila campaign seeks to inspire patients and the general public on the importance of knowing one’s health status as part and parcel of their attitude towards prevention.

What practical solutions are given to patients to deal with lifestyle diseases?

The campaign encourages active lifestyle by all citizens as part of prevention of lifestyle diseases.

The campaign has introduced #PhilaThursday as another mechanism to subvert the popular Phuza Thursday. It is also in this initiative that we encourage individuals, communities and organisations to get involved in physical activities for at least not less than 30 minutes at least three times a week.

(The )Phila campaign integrates the need to be mindful of eating habits and encourage communities to adhere to a good diet including sufficient consumption of vegetables, fruits and water.

Equally important, Phila discourages alcohol consumption and smoking, which are major contributors to undesirable lifestyle diseases.

Who are your partners and what are the costs of the campaign?

A process has started with social clusters of the government to adopt the Phila programme. The national Department of Transport is one such department which has already recognised the Phila campaign as a contributor to the prevention of road accidents. The SA National Aids Council is another natural partner when it comes to addressing the current National Strategic Plan - which seeks to reduce new HIV infections by 63% by 2022.

Phila has also partnered with various NGOs that deal with key populations such as Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task force (Sweat), Sisonke, and LGBT organisations.

What had been the experiences of the people on the ground concerning this initiative?

Phila is a new concept, the effectiveness of which will still be subjected to proper monitoring and evaluation. The starting point of the campaign was pretesting of the campaign name and purpose followed by various testing of subsequent sub-campaigns.

For instance, one of Phila’s sub-campaigns, She Conquers, managed to get public perception and reaction from its outdoor campaign. It was encouraging to see more people identifying with what this Phila sub-campaign in a positive manner.