Health communications research to support the National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis from the United States
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Health communications research to support the National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis from the United States

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    In 1998, government agencies and community groups joined together to implement a National Plan to Eliminate Syphilis from the United States by the year 2005. This plan was officially launched by the Surgeon General and the CDC Director in October 1999. Eliminating this age-old enemy will be a historic public health event comparable to the elimination of malaria and cholera, two other historic infectious diseases.

    Syphilis elimination is defined as the absence of sustained transmission (i.e., no transmission after 90 days of the report of an imported index case). The goal for syphilis elimination is to reduce the number of primary and secondary syphilis cases to fewer than 1000 nationally and to have 90% of counties syphilis-free by 2005. Because a vaccine is not currently available, syphilis cannot be completely eradicated. However, controlling it at very low levels eliminates it as a public health threat. Many other industrialized countries have succeeded in bringing syphilis down to elimination levels.

    Health communications efforts were recognized as integral to the syphilis elimination efforts. The World Health Organization, in its Health Promotion Glossary, defines health communications as a key strategy to inform the public about health concerns and to maintain important health issues on the public agenda. The use of the mass and multimedia and other technological innovations to disseminate useful health information to the public increases awareness of specific aspects of individual and collective health as well as importance of health in development.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines health communications as "the crafting and delivery of messages and strategies, based on consumer research, to promote health of individuals and communities."

    Health communications programs can inform, influence, and motivate institutional or public audiences or both. Such programs are used to increase awareness of a health issue, problem, or solution; to increase demand for health services; to demonstrate or illustrate skills; to remind or reinforce knowledge, attitudes, or behavior; and to affect attitudes to create support for individual or collective action. In keeping with the pivotal role health communications plays, the Syphilis Elimination Communication Plan was developed in August 2000 to support the National Plan.

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