The National Dental Hygiene Competencies for Entry-to-Practice identifies advocacy as one of the five core abilities that form the foundation necessary for entrance into the dental hygiene profession in Canada. Advocacy is defined in this document as "speaking, writing or acting in favour of a particular cause, policy or group of people--often aiming to reduce inequities in health status or access to health services". Advocacy is used to advance an issue in order to influence policy makers and encourage social change.
Improving the public's oral health and increasing access to preventive oral care continue to be major concerns for dental hygienists and their supporting associations. Advocacy in public health plays a role in educating the public, swaying public opinion or influencing policy-makers. (1)
The number of organizations and individuals engaged in some form of advocacy is vast, as are the issues targeted. Public policy makers are under constant pressure to respond to a wide variety of issues. They, therefore, need to know exactly where a message originates and if the source is credible and authoritative. (2)
This column will focus on resources related to the advocacy process for improved access to preventive oral care and to tobacco control initiatives--two issues germane to dental hygienists.
APHA Media Advocacy Manual
This resource, from the American Public Health Association, reinforces the view that one of the best ways to gain the attention of decision makers is media coverage. The media can also be used to publicize public health conferences and events. This manual includes sections on planning the message, creating a local and national media list, contacting the media and preparing a media event. The manual can be accessed at: http://www.apha.org/NR/rdonlyres/A5A9C4ED-1C0C-4D0C-A56C-C33DEC-7F5A49/0/Media_Advocacy_Manual.pdf
Working with policy makers to improve oral health
Prepared for the Center for Health Care Strategies Purchasing Institute on Best Practices for Oral health by Burton L. Edelstein, DDS, MPH, this concise guide examines the issue of oral health advocacy from the perspective of the policy maker. Dr. Edelstein describes the process necessary to engage decision makers with the right message and the right spokesperson. This report can be accessed at: http://www.cdhp.org/Advocacy/Whatis Advocacy.asp
Using the Internet for effective grassroots advocacy
The Internet is transforming the way activists mobilize, in support of a cause. Produced by Convio Inc in 2005, this online guide covers key topics that should be considered when planning online advocacy campaigns, motivating volunteers and measuring program results. There are also examples of online advocacy pages from successful organizations such as MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving). The guide can be accessed at: http://www.garivers.org/pdf_files/convio_online_advocacy.pdf
The AdvoKit: A step by step guide to effective advocacy
AdvoKit, produced by the Penticton Advocacy Network, provides a step-by-step action plan on how to be clear about, and aim for, what you want. The suggestions in this booklet are ideas that have been used in all kind of situations. As everyone's situation is unique, the guide suggests that you "use what works for you; ignore the rest." Worksheets and sample letters are included in the AdvoKit.
The guide can be accessed at: http://www.bccerebralpalsy.com/pdfs/speakup.pdf
Advocacy guide for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
This guide explores the concept of self advocacy; specifically in relation to the way in which people with disabilities deal with political and health care systems. It discusses both systemic and individual advocacy. Many programs and services that people with special needs require are funded and run by government departments. To advocate in this context, it is necessary to know how to find help using the political system and this manual explains how to locate and arrange meetings with members of Parliament.
The guide can be accessed at: http://www.mscalgary.org/advocacy_guide.htm
Tobacco or Oral Health: an advocacy guide for oral health professionals
This comprehensive advocacy guide was prepared jointly by the FDI World Dental Federation and the World Health Organization. It provides facts about tobacco use, discusses the important role of dental professionals in tobacco control, and examines the role of advocacy. The guide is divided into five chapters addressing such issues as the impact of tobacco use on oral and general health and overcoming common barriers to tobacco control. A number of country case studies showing tobacco free initiatives are presented. Appendices provide further links and resources as well as a sample advocacy letter. The manual can be accessed at: http://www.who.int/oral_health/media/orh_tobacco_fdi_book.pdf
The role of an advocate can take many forms. Conducting a needs assessment and publicizing the findings, participating in grassroots organizing efforts, or responding to public policies and regulations are only a few examples. To be effective, advocacy must be selective and focused: choose a particular issue, develop arguments to gain fellow activists, create coalitions, and then work to promote it.
(1.) American Public Health Association. Media Advocacy Manual. Washington, DC: APHA
(2.) Edelstein, Burton. Working with Policy Makers to Improve Oral Health. Washington, DC: The Center for Health Care Strategies. 2005
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