Communication in Neglected Tropical Diseases’ elimination: A scoping review and call for action

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Background Although the practice of communication is often called upon when intervening and involving communities affected by NTDs, the disciplinary framework of health communication research has been largely absent from NTD strategies. To illustrate how practices conceptualized and developed within the communication field have been applied in the context of NTD elimination, we conducted a scoping review focusing on two diseases currently targeted for elimination by the WHO: lymphatic filariasis and Chagas disease. Methods We examined studies published between 2012 and 2020 in five electronic databases. Selected articles were required to (i) have explicit references to communication in either the abstract, title, or key words; (ii) further elaborate on the search terms (communication, mes-sage, media, participation and health education) in the body of the article; and (iii) sufficiently describe communication actions associated to those terms. Using the C-Change Socio-Ecological Model for Social and Behavior Change Communication as a reference, the articles were analysed to identify communication activities, theoretical frameworks, and/or rationales involved in their design, as well as their intended level of influence (individual, interpersonal, community, or enabling environment). Results and implications A total of 43 articles were analysed. Most interventions conceptualized communication as a set of support tools or supplemental activities delivering information and amplifying pre-defined messages aimed at increasing knowledge, encouraging community involvement, promoting individual behavior change, or securing some degree of acceptability of proposed strategies. Although important attempts at further exploring communication capabilities were identified, particularly in participation-based strategies, for most studies, communication consisted of an underdeveloped and under-theorized approach. We contend that a more complex understanding of the capacities offered by the health communication field could help attain the biomedical and social justice goals proposed in NTD elimination strate-gies. Three ways in which the field of health communication could further enhance NTD efforts are presented: informing interventions with theory-based frameworks, exploring the political complexity of community participation in specific contexts, and identifying conceptu-alizations of culture implied in interventions’ design. Conclusion This article is a call to action to consider the resources offered by the health communication field when researching, designing, or implementing NTD interventions.