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Could big parties be (a) public health strategy?

Last week, I received my annual flu vaccination at Princeton’s “Flu Fest.” It seemed to me such a success that I wonder if something like it couldn’t be replicated in low resource settings — i.e., in Africa?

No, the idea is not that one person comes with the flu and kisses everyone else to get over the flu early in the season (and I have heard about kids’ chicken pox parties like this, which I understand is a really bad strategy). Flu Fest is an almost military-style mobilization in which the campus is invited to come to a huge conference room over a series of 3 days to receive their free shot or nasal spray. The event is widely advertised, marked with tons of balloons and signs, and according to the campus newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, about 5000-6000 people are vaccinated each year.

Along with the vaccine, representatives from various health-related organizations give away free stuff, ranging from hand sanitizers to disposable thermometers. You can get your blood pressure checked, get advice for relieving stress, and learn about other local medical options.

I have no idea about the economics of this or the efficacy of such a program relative to the model of having local clinics that are simply available each and every day to provide vaccinations and other services for people… but it did make me wonder if a kind of “traveling circus” couldn’t move through parts of Africa and/or other low resource settings to literally blitz the local population with valuable public health modalities. If delivered as a big party, the way “flu fest” is here at Princeton, there might not be much stigma for attending, and one could simultaneously test for HIV, deliver vaccinations for infants, etc., and provide other valuable information. If it were advertised a few days ahead of time by an advance team, turnout would likely be high.

I don’t spend much time on this blog writing about my half-baked ideas for development strategies that might work, if there is not good evidence behind them, but maybe someone else will devote the time to elaborate why this strategy might (or might not) work.

About Evan Lieberman

I am a Professor of Political Science at MIT, and I conduct research, write, and teach about development, ethnic politics, and research methods.

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