“Talk to your doctor first about antibiotics”: using digital marketing to fight antimicrobial resistance in Ukraine

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Sales of over-the-counter antibiotics and their abuse and overuse by consumers are a major challenge in Ukraine. Some people cannot or do not want to see a doctor for medical advice, so they buy drugs such as antibiotics without a clear diagnosis and prescription.

Instead, they rely on their own knowledge and perceived experiences or on the advice of family, friends and neighbors. Some customers pressure pharmacists to sell them over-the-counter antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.

Irrational use of antibiotics can lead to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Resistance to antibiotics develops in the bacteria of an individual patient. From there, they can spread to the environment and to other patients, potentially causing infections that are difficult to treat. Over time, the spread of AMR in society renders many antibiotics, used to treat many common bacterial infections, ineffective.

In this context, the WHO country office in Ukraine, in close collaboration with the National Public Health Center (PHC) of Ukraine, undertook to educate healthcare professionals and the public on the correct use antibiotics through an awareness campaign. The message was clear: Prescribing antibiotics should be left to doctors, people should be encouraged not to self-medicate, and pharmacists should be encouraged not to dispense antibiotics without a prescription.

The first target audience for the WHO country office in Ukraine was women aged 25-40 who are active Internet users and are often their families’ health decision makers. The second target audience, to which the next cycle of the project will address, are pharmacists and doctors of all ages, especially pediatricians and general practitioners. These two audiences represent around 3 million people in Ukraine, or almost 7% of the country’s total population.

“You can reach your target audiences almost immediately with digital tools”

The WHO country office in Ukraine decided that the most effective way to reach its target audiences and achieve its objectives and goals would be through a digital education campaign. “We decided to create and run a digital campaign rather than a traditional PR campaign. In today’s world, it is important to reach people through the channels they use rather than with posters and brochures. You can reach your target audiences almost immediately with digital tools, ”says Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine. “We quickly developed a digital ecosystem consisting of a website, a Facebook page and a YouTube channel in early 2020.”

The website showcases the myriad of bacteria in the world and educates readers about antibiotics, their purpose, and their proper and safe use. In addition, the campaign has created a series of funny videos hosted on its YouTube channel to show the variety of bacteria species and explain their sometimes very strange names. Finally, the Facebook page posted graphics with facts and news about antibiotics and referred readers to the website. The campaign material was also promoted via the Facebook pages of the Ministry of Health and PHC.

The website launched in February 2020. To attract a large audience to the website, the campaign used digital marketing tools such as Google Display Network banners, social media marketing, and Google AdWords. To illustrate how the latter worked, if someone searched for “antibiotics” or “antimicrobial resistance” on Google’s Ukraine page, the campaign’s website would be at the top of the search results. Users would therefore be more likely to visit the website.

Analytics show that the campaign had an impact

Analyzes showed that over 78% of website visits were made by women aged 25-44, which was the first of two target audiences (use of the webpage by healthcare professionals among users has not yet been rated). Since the search campaign did not specifically target women, the congruence between the campaign’s target audience and the actual website audience confirms that the approach used worked well for the expected target audience.

The campaign used various metrics to measure its performance and make necessary adjustments. The metrics included the number of clicks from banners, videos, social media and search ads, time spent on the website, number of page views, percentage of a video watched, as well as level of awareness growth among the public contacted.

The most popular pages were “How Antibiotics Work” and “Why Bacteria Win”. The average length of these page visits was 14 to 15 minutes, and 75% of users scrolled at least 50% of the articles. This meant that website visitors were very engaged.

A big step forward for the future of the campaign is that the PHC has taken ownership of the campaign platform. “The WHO country office in Ukraine, in cooperation with PHC, has done a great job of building a strong digital ecosystem, reaching target audiences, targeting the right audiences and laying the groundwork for behavior change. We look forward to building on this work, involving other groups and helping to win the battle against AMR, ”said Oleksandr Matskov, deputy director of PHC.


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