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Cancer Control: Knowledge into Action: WHO Guide for Effective Programmes: Module 6: Policy and Advocacy. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2008.

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Cancer Control: Knowledge into Action: WHO Guide for Effective Programmes: Module 6: Policy and Advocacy.

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Generally speaking, there are two main methods of advocacy:

  • Lobbying or direct communication: involves influencing through direct, private communications with decision-makers. Lobbying, particularly through personal meetings with decision-makers, can be a powerful and cost-effective advocacy tool.
  • Campaigning: involves speaking publicly on an issue with a view to generating a response from the wider public and using a variety of techniques such as:
    • chain e-mail or letter
    • opinion pieces and letters to the editor in newspapers
    • newsletters
    • celebrity endorsements
    • media partnerships with newspapers, journalists and film-makers
    • web-based bulletins and online discussions
    • public events
    • large-scale advertising campaigns.

The choice of method will very much depend on the target audience, the message to be conveyed, the resources available, and the cultural and socioeconomic context. Table 3 provides a template that can be used to help decide which advocacy methods would be most appropriate in a given setting.

Table 3. Template for deciding on possible methods of advocacy.

Table 3

Template for deciding on possible methods of advocacy.


When approaching decision-makers with a view to influencing cancer control policy and planning, it pays to bear in mind the following pointers:


  • Read over the key messages and background documents relating to your national cancer plan. Know your facts and be prepared to tell your personal story – why you feel cancer is important, and why the government needs to take action.
  • Provide simple print and audiovisual material with attractive illustrations to reinforce the main points and actions to be taken by decision-makers. For example, when raising awareness of the cancer burden and possible interventions, have simple graphs showing the magnitude and trends of the cancer problem and cancer risk factors, and specify the number of cancers that could be prevented, detected early, cured or for which suffering could be palliated if comprehensive policies and actions were in place. Provide real-life stories and examples of best practice from countries with similar socioeconomic situations.
  • Do a risk assessment. What are the counter-arguments? What do opponents and non-supporters believe or say about cancer control? Who is influencing the decision-makers?

Suggested text for this purpose is as follows:

Comprehensive cancer control provides a framework for all levels of government to work together to

  • reduce the risks of developing cancer and dying from cancer;
  • improve cancer care and quality of life through better screening, treatment, and access to services.

Implementing comprehensive cancer control means that

  • fewer citizens will get cancer and fewer citizens will die from cancer;
  • people with cancer will have access to high-quality, timely treatment and care;
  • when cancer cannot be cured, patients will receive high-quality, compassionate end-of-life care, close to family and friends, without enduring unnecessary pain;
  • money will be saved by eliminating duplication in the current systems;
  • cancer trends will be reliably tracked to help monitor how our country is doing compared with the rest of the world.

Implementing the comprehensive cancer control plan will involve costs

  • it is estimated that the cost of implementing the plan will be X;
  • however, the cost of not implementing a national plan to control cancer is unimaginable.


  • Call the decision-maker's office and make an appointment.
  • Confirm the time and place of your meeting in a follow-up letter which also clearly states your purpose in arranging the meeting. Also state who will be attending the meeting.
  • Consider inviting representatives from other local supporting organizations – the more you are able to demonstrate a strong, unified community with a clear message about cancer control to your elected officials, the more compelling your presentation will be and the more likely you are to gain their support.


  • Know your elected officials – you can usually find background information about government officials on government web sites and from media reports.
  • Prepare an agenda – remember the purpose of the meeting is to get decision-makers to support cancer control – preferably sooner rather than later.
  • Be prepared to talk about the benefits of working together and providing support to the cancer plan. Focus on possible solutions.
  • Identify what decision-makers can do to help – support sustainable funding for cancer control, gain commitment from other elected officials in the party, raise the issue in caucus or with the health or finance committees, ask their party colleagues to support the cancer control plan, speak to or write a letter of support to the relevant ministers, ask questions in legislative meetings.


  • Introduce yourself and your organization, and also any representatives of other organizations who may be attending with you.
  • Outline your goals and objectives – what it is you want to achieve as a result of the meeting.
  • Take a petition (if you have one) to the elected official and ask if he or she will help collect signatures – including from other constituents and caucus colleagues.


To talk to the mass media is to talk to the public or at least part of it. The WHO communications toolkit (WHO, 2007b) provides practical guidance on how to interact successfully with the media and develop effective media products. When dealing with the media, it is important to recognize that media forms are not all the same. Television, radio and print often have different and sometimes competing demands. Some want a 30-second video clip, while others require in-depth factual analysis. Larger or national media agencies tend to have dedicated staff who specialize in health matters. These are the people that ideally you would want to reach. They have the contacts, they know the players, and they are (or pretend to be) knowledgeable. At the regional or local level, however, and depending on their interest or otherwise, your story is more likely to be assigned to a general reporter who covered an environmental spill yesterday, and a human interest or car accident story the day before.

General tips for interacting with the media are as follows:

  • It is inevitable that, whomever you speak to, you will know more about the subject than they will. Thus the easier you make a reporter's job, the more likely you are to get fair or even favourable treatment. One way to do this is to provide written summary statements or a press release.
  • Expect your messages to be filtered and altered by the media. Certainly, most reporters will attempt to do so, especially if they are any good. All the more reason therefore to keep your message simple and repeat it as often as possible, especially in a broadcast interview.
  • Do not speak on behalf of others. If you are asked for an opinion about why the minister is doing this or that, do not answer on his or her behalf, especially if there is an adversarial relationship between you.
  • Make sure that your messages are interesting, complete, clear and concise. The clearer and more concise they are, the greater the chance they will be transmitted with accuracy:
    • Decide in advance what your key messages are going to be. Choose a few messages that you are familiar or comfortable with and stick to them.
    • Do a sales job. To do that, use the active, not the passive tense. Do not say “Cancer must come under control”, but rather “We must control cancer”. Say “We are …” instead of “Citizens are …”.
    • Once you have developed your messages, practice what you are going to say, word for word, until it is second nature.
    • Use concrete but short examples and do not hesitate to repeat your unique selling point (USP), which must be clear, simple and easy to remember (for both you and the interviewer). Follow this tried and trusted advice: KEEP IT SHORT and SIMPLE.

For examples of cancer advocacy campaigns and tools, see

Canadian Campaign to Control Cancer: http://www.controlcancer.ca/

Useful cancer advocacy tools: http://www.cancerforum.ca/

World Cancer Day: http://www.worldcancercampaign.org/

World No Tobacco Day: http://www.who.int/tobacco/communications/events/wntd/en/index.html

For information on the use of the Internet to gain direct access to an audience, and further advice on how to plan effective public events, refer to WHO's Stop the global epidemic of chronic disease: a practical guide to successful advocacy, which is available at http://www.who.int/chp/advocacy/en/index.html

The advocacy efforts of the Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt (see Box, page 34) has led to increased awareness among the general public and health professionals of the importance of screening, and laid the foundation for a government-run pilot national screening programme for breast cancer.

Box Icon


EGYPT. The Breast Cancer Foundation of Egypt (BCFE) was established in 2003 by a small group of health-care professionals, breast-cancer survivors and public-spirited citizens as a nongovernmental, non-profit organization under the Ministry of Social (more...)

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Bookshelf ID: NBK195431


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