Background In our country, there are many misconceptions about arthritis and fears of being stigmatized by disclosing the fact that one has a serious chronic illness. The Arthritis Foundation of Crete has been raising awareness of RMDs in many different ways since its inception in 2003. When WAD announced the WAVING CAMPAIGN, some in our association doubted its effectiveness in increasing public awareness.
Objectives When we began our campaign our obvious goal was to bring our country in a respectable place among the 40 countries participating at that time. However, our ultimate aim was to encourage the public to become better informed about the various forms of arthritis, the different age groups that are affected, the varying degrees of severity, and to help de-stigmatize RMDs.
Methods Even though our association did not allocate any funds, those who believed in this campaign devoted their time and ingenuity in order to inform the public and acquire waves from different people. First of all, we printed on small pieces of paper the WAD webpage address, some information about RMDs, and a thank you message in both English and Greek. We distributed these among those participating. We, then, recruited family and friends to wave and in turn, had them photograph their own family and friends waving. Secondly, we stood on the sidewalk (pavement) of a busy street, every day in the afternoon, for about two months, and stopped people, both locals and tourists, explaining to them arthritis, the campaign, and asking them to wave in support. Thirdly, we attended various events and briefly informed and asked large numbers of people to participate in this endeavor. Moreover, we approached three celebrities, who were more than pleased to wave for WAD. The most successful method was asking the organisers of a traditional dance and song, live show to allocate us 10 minutes of their time to talk about World Arthritis Day and to ask the entire audience in the open air amphitheater to wave in support of people with RMDs. This was also televised twice. We also promoted this event in the Social and Mass Media, f/b, papers, radio, etc.
Results Our results surpassed our expectations. We gathered 6751 waves and brought our country in second place, 2nd only to the USA, among the 89 participating countries. While in Athens only about 80% waved, on the island of Crete 95% of the people approached, happily waved on behalf of WAD. Most people had a lot of questions for us and genuinely wanted to know more about certain RMDs. A large number of people congratulated us on our mission and the young proved to be our most ardent supporters. From acquaintances we heard comments such as, “I've wanted to ask you about SLE for a long time, but I didn't think you'd feel comfortable talking about it.”
Conclusions We can raise awareness through sheer determination and belief in our cause. A lot of people became more aware of the fact that RMDs affect all ages and of the varied degree of severity of some forms. Furthermore, some realized that even people with serious illnesses can be active and useful members of society and that there is no need to conceial an illness. They and we came to the realization that it is up to us to obliterate the stigma attached to a disease. Obviously, raising awareness needs to continue as there are far too many people that have yet to be informed!
Disclosure of Interest None declared