Beating the Drum

Communicator Dr. Bernard Appiah ’10 ’13 conducts research in sub-Saharan Africa to improve public health awareness, access and actions.

    By Shelby Brooks
  • Illustration by Sam Kalda
  • May. 15, 2023
    3 min read

In a New York winter, Dr. Bernard Appiah ’10 ’13 sits in his office at Syracuse University. Appiah laughs as he speaks about his public health work an ocean away. His eyes crinkle, and his mouth widens in a smile. “Sometimes when something seems so serious, you want to lighten it a bit to help people enjoy it,” he said. This approach softens the impersonal tone of public messages—an observation he made early in life. His late father was a gong-gong beater in their village in Ghana. The chief gave information to Appiah’s father, who beat the gong, gathered the villagers and relayed the announcement. “As a little kid, I was just following him,” he said. “I didn’t know I would also become a communicator in the future, you know?”

After working as a pharmacist in Ghana, Appiah wanted to move from one-on-one care to a larger impact in public health. At Texas A&M University, he earned degrees in science journalism and public health, building on his foundations. “Texas A&M and Syracuse University both focus on the global community,” he said. “Here at Syracuse University, I apply much of my communication expertise from Texas A&M in addressing health issues in Africa. My training in communication and public health have prepared me well for my current work.”

One of Appiah’s projects, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, saw the professor and his team using a radio drama, including phone-ins and discussions, to promote childhood vaccination in Ethiopia. “The result was amazing,” he shared. Parents who listened to the radio drama were more likely to have their children vaccinated on time. Their kids were also less likely to suffer from diseases that could’ve been prevented, or at least reduced in severity, through vaccination.

“If you want to help people positively change a behavior, you have to find a way to make them love the new behavior,” he said. “In Africa, they really like radio and television soap operas. So, instead of just telling people, ‘Go for your shot! Go for your shot!’ we decided to design a serial radio drama—one episode each week. They listen in and think, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ And through the story, we can help them understand scientific concepts.”

Texas A&M gave Appiah the opportunity to pursue his public health and communications passions. Passing it back, he takes the lessons learned in his unique journey to make the world a little brighter. 

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About Dr. Bernard Appiah ’10 ’13

Dr. Bernard Appiah ’10 ’13 is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health at Syracuse University. He earned a doctorate in health promotion and community health sciences and a master’s in science and technology journalism from Texas A&M University. Appiah uses communication interventions to address public and global health problems in sub-Saharan Africa.

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