In the previous section you have learned something about the concept of health and within this section you will learn about health education. As a Health Extension Practitioner, health education is among the most important tasks that you are going to perform.
The purpose of health education is to enable your community members to develop accurate and effective concepts about their own health and the health of their family and their community. Health education is an important component of health extension programmes.
If you are able to deliver the right health education messages the people in your community will become aware of their health problems and of ways of preventing health problems for themselves and those around them. Health education is important in developing a positive attitude in order to support behaviour change voluntarily, and help people in the households in your area solve their own health problems where appropriate.
Health education uses a wide range of different educational methods and strategies to lead people to make the right decisions for themselves about their health (Box 1.4). Health education messages should be attractive and appropriate for the target audiences and will move the people individually or as a group to take their share of responsibility in preventing exposure to disease.
Box 1.4 Promoting healthy behaviours
Health education is a part of healthcare that is concerned with promoting healthy behaviours. Think of those people who as a result of receiving health education messages are now using an insecticide treated net (ITN), or the number of households that have constructed latrines so that they are able to protect themselves from disease.
A person’s behaviour may be the main cause of their health problems, but it can also be the main solution. It is through health education that you as a Health Extension Practitioner will be able to help people to understand their behaviours and how this behaviour affects their health. Your work will encourage them to make their own choices for leading a healthy life.
But Health Extension Practitioners are not expected to force them to change. Behaviour change comes through persuasion about the outcomes of unhealthy behaviour and its consequences on the health of the individuals, families and communities.
1.4.1 Rationale for health education
In the previous section you have learned something about the concept of health education. In this section you will learn about the rationale for health education.
Read this quotation from Dr Hiroshi Nakajiima who was the Director-General of the World Health Organization.
‘We must recognise that most of the world’s major health problems and premature death are preventable through changes in human behaviours and at low cost. We have the know-how and technology, but they have to be transformed into effective action at the community level.’
From your experience in your own community do you think that he is correct? If so think of some examples from your own experience.
Examples might include the treatment cost and possible disability due to malaria, and think of the reduction to exposure to malaria by ITNs.
You will learn more about the treatment and prevention of malaria in the Communicable Diseases Module of this curriculum.
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The rationale for health education is as follows:
To address the spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases within the community where you are working using health education principles
Health promotion and disease prevention are strategies to address the health problems in a cost-effective manner as compared to the cost spent for treatment
Most health problems in developing countries are easily preventable through awareness creation and community involvement
The cause of most health problems (for example, the spread of HIV/AIDS) is human behaviour and the way to prevent these health problems is also through influencing human behaviour
In the community where you are working currently, health education is an instrument to help people with symptoms of disease to seek treatment
Health education methods and principles are important to help to steer adolescent and young children away from harmful practices and behaviours like substance abuse, teenage pregnancy etc.
Read the list again. This important list outlines the rationale for health education activities. Which items on the list do you think will be the most important for you in your role as a health worker in your community?
In fact all these items are important and together they make up the rationale for making an effort in health education (Figure 1.4). Of course in some communities certain health issues are more important than others.
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Figure 1.4 Health education with individuals can have a great impact on their lives. (Photo: I-TECH/Julia Sherburne)