So I was excited when I learned that I would be attending the launch of the “Donate your caller tune” initiative. This program, created by the WHO Indian country office, allows users to transform their caller tune into a public health message of their choosing. Caller tunes are less popular in the US but they are essentially “ringbacks”- a song (typically a Bollywood song here in India) that someone hears instead of a ringtone when they are calling you. Participants in this program sign up through the internet or by scanning a QR code (made out of a celebrity’s face) with their smart phone. They choose a cause (cervical cancer, diabetes, fitness, high blood pressure, breast cancer etc) and anyone who calls them will hear a message from a celeb related to that cause. For example, the caller tune for obesity is recorded by John Abraham, a popular Bollywood actor/model:
“Hi this is John Abraham and I think that obesity can be beat. Say no to smoking, drinking, junk food. Say yes to walking, running, dancing. And remember, this won’t happen overnight- so be patient, don’t give up. For more information visit donateyourcallertune.in”
Nata Menabde, WHO’s ambassador to India explained the rationale behind the initiative:
“The idea is to reach out with creative messages for adopting healthy lifestyles. India has one of the largest mobile users in this world and on an average, a person receives around 15 calls a day, making the space of caller tune an untapped area for promoting health causes.”
Always a cynic, I wondered if simply listening to a pre-recorded celebrity message could effect change in thorny public health issues such as obesity or smoking cessation. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. As far as I am concerned, this program could serve several functions beyond just broadcasting of the messages:
The use of popular Indian celebrities, mobile phones and current technology such as QR codes gives this public health initiative a youthful, slick feel and reinforces the idea that these issues are relevant.
Most importantly, it creates stakeholders. A young person who changes their caller tune will not hear it themselves, but the very act of doing something related to public health is important. To feeling like an agent of change as opposed to a passive recipient of public health messages. Hopefully it keeps them active in promoting and normalizing these messages and becoming stewards of the health of themselves and their peers.