Project overview

The cities of Portoviejo and Quinindé, in the coastal region of Ecuador, saw high numbers of Zika cases during the 2016-17 epidemic. They also see persistently high rates of dengue and chikungunya viruses, both - like Zika - transmitted via mosquito vectors. Control of mosquito vectors is currently the only option for interrupting transmission of these diseases. This project aimed to translate research on where and when people are most at risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases to the communities of focus. The research is a collaboration between Glasgow University, UK, Universidad Antonio Nariño, Colombia, and Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador. The public engagement activities of this project were designed to inform local residents about the causes and risks of Zika, dengue and chikungunya in their community, and how simple measures taken at home can protect them from being bitten. The aim was that improving the community’s understanding of mosquito vectors and disease transmission should empower individuals to protect themselves.

Image: A radio interview being recorded

The project was made up of four half-day community festivals - ‘Mosquito Festivals’ - based around World Mosquito Day on August 20th 2017. These festivals took place in both Colombia and Ecuador, although this report focuses only on those in Ecuador. These aimed to disseminate, reiterate and reinforce public health messages about mosquito-borne diseases. Locally-relevant information on mosquito vectors was also conveyed through a mixture of artistic performances, displays and participatory activities. Ministry of Health offices provided personnel for information booths at the festivals, giving the public the opportunity to directly discuss public health messages with ministry staff.

As well as this, a series of workshops ran before the festivals, targeting community groups particularly at risk of contracting mosquito-borne diseases: school children, disadvantaged youth groups, and the elderly. Before and after each workshop (excluding one for the elderly; see evaluation section), participants were asked to carry out short anonymous surveys outlining their understanding of the causes of Zika, how to prevent mosquito bites, and to give feedback on the workshops. The results of these are still being analysed.

Project leads and partners

This public engagement project was established as an extension of a research project on mosquito vector ecology, behaviour and transmission within four hotspots of Zika transmission in Ecuador and Colombia as funded by the MRC Zika Rapid Response Initiative (MC_PC_15081).  The research project was led by Professor Heather Ferguson and Leonardo Ortega-López at the University of Glasgow, Dr. Renato León at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (Ecuador) and Dr’s Felio Bello and Alexandra Segura at the Universidad Antonio Narino (Colombia).

The public engagement project was lead by Ortega-López, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. With the help of local city councils, schools and a local home for the elderly, Ortega-López organised the planning and implementation of the festivals and workshops. Ortega-López took part in radio and TV interviews to advertise the events, as well as to disseminate information on mosquito vectors.

The publicity strategy was lead by Fibios Comunicación Ambiental Cía. Ltda


Image: A workshop at an elderly person's home

Ambitions & approach

The vision of the project was to improve community understanding of the causes of Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses, the risks of exposure to mosquitoes, and how individuals can protect themselves against mosquito bites. The project was designed to serve both the general public, via the Mosquito Festivals, as well as being tailored towards particularly at-risk groups.

Initially just the half-day festivals were planned. However, when discussing this with local communities and government stakeholders, it became obvious that there was a value in research teams spending additional time with particularly at-risk community groups. Thus additional, complementary workshops were developed and run in the weeks and days before the festival events. These were 2 hour sessions, tailored to the audience, featuring interactive activities relating to mosquito-borne diseases in the following ways:

  • School children: presentations, study boards and interactive sessions.

  • Disadvantaged youth: participatory theatre, performed at the Mosquito Festivals

  • The elderly: workshops at a senior care home.

The Mosquito festivals featured local bands, information booths, theatre performances, artistic performances, and interactive activities. These were designed to appeal to a broad range of age groups and backgrounds, and as such to serve as wide a section of the community as possible.

Short, anonymised surveys were offered before and after the events (excluding the workshop for the elderly;see evaluation section) to assess any shifts in knowledge as a result of the interventions.

The publicity strategy to advertise and inform the public about these activities consisted of radio and TV interviews (supported by local media), and direct communications from external partners. Flyers and posters were distributed around the cities. And finally, a Facebook fan page was created.

Image: Backstage in a theatre workshop

Evaluation & lessons learned

Surveys taken have not yet been analysed. At the moment we know that around 400 people were engaged with the Mosquito Festival events and the tailored workshops. One major lesson learned was the inability to survey the elderly community group. The survey method was not adapted to their physical needs and perhaps should have been delivered through interview rather than them having to physically fill in the surveys themselves. The project team learned that it is either necessary to dedicate more time to planning and tailoring evaluation methods to specific audiences, and to request a bigger budget taking this into account, or to focus on fewer groups and conduct a more intensive evaluation. Taking one of these approaches could have improved activity design and post-event evaluation.

Advice for somebody planning a similar project

  • Always plan for unexpected costs; especially if the target audience/area are still being decided upon.

  • Liaise with local people well in advance, as they offer the most helpful advice for working in the communities, especially how to adapt to their needs and any cultural specifics.

  • Make your goals specific to the needs and interests of the target audience to ensure they are interested in, participate in, and benefit from, your activities.

  • Stay proportionate and realistic in what you hope to achieve.

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