Latvian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Patients’ Union
Our challenge was to find something that would capture attention but not be too threatening.
Every year the Latvian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Patients' Union organises Leukaemia and Lymphoma Day to raise public awareness of these rare blood cancer diseases. In 2012 we had an additional goal: to persuade the Latvian Government to reverse years of falling spending on treatments for these conditions.
The state authorities claimed to understand patients' problems; in reality they were turning a blind eye to patients' pleas for healthcare support. This was shown most vividly in the declining expenditure on healthcare spending over recent years. Most recently, in 2010 the government healthcare budget was 71.6m LVL, and by 2011 it had fallen by 6% to 67.62m LVL.
These cuts were directly affecting people’s lives. The average cost for this treatment is more than 1,000 LVL per month, far beyond the means of most Latvians. Our average net monthly income is 414 LVL. As a result many patients go without the treatment they need - treatment which would allow them to remain functioning members of society, holding down jobs, paying taxes, and playing a role in their families.
So for the 2012 Leukaemia and Lymphoma Day we aimed to persuade the Government that it was time to start listening to patients and stop the cuts
Our challenge was to find something that would capture attention but not be too threatening. If we exaggerated the issue we could end up reducing government support. Our solution was a campaign with two parts: one to draw public attention, and the second to increase government support.
As a protest against the waste of human lives and as a symbol of the blood cancer which takes over the human body, we poured red dye into the water of two fountains in the city centre. They were near a lively traffic junction and the city's main park, so were seen by many people throughout the day. This was the also the location of the media event.
Near the fountains we set up an exhibition of portraits of the eyes of real patients. These were accompanied by the simple but poignant call: “Look into our eyes - this might be the last time!” The people passing by could write supporting messages on the portrait cards and address them to the authorities.
For the week after Leukaemia and Lymphoma Day we showed this exhibition at the Central Train Station, so an ever wider public was exposed to the message. We also took it directly to the Government by placing banners depicting photos of the eye-portraits in front of the windows of the Ministry of Health and near the Cabinet of Ministers.
The campaign drew huge attention from the public and media. It was shown on all Latvia's television programmes and described in all notable press media and internet portals. It was a highly effective PR campaign and one which was awarded a Golden Hammer in our 2012 national awards.
However, the real outcome of this campaign was not how many media outlets covered it, nor how many awards it won, or even how many people saw it. The most important outcome was stopping the Government cuts.
I am pleased to say that not only did the Government decide to stop cutting funding for this area, but it actually increased it. This additional funding meant that eight more people could receive the most expensive treatment available. Before the campaign just 54 could, and now 62 can. That is eight more lives improved, eight more families helped.
It was a very successful campaign and showed what can be achieved when you manage to achieve the correct balance between drawing attention to an issue, but not being too provocative, and then actively using that attention to make people think about an issue.