How to provide health education and thus create better health systems

ifmsa-world-globe

(IFMSA, 2016)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Maria Khan. The writer is a third year medical student at Army medical college in Pakistan. Mrs Maria Khan is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA).

Health education or Education for health begins with people. It hopes to motivate them in improving and leading a healthy lifestyle whether it is their diet, fitness regime or knowledge about communicable diseases.

WHO defines it as “…opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge, and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health.”

It enhances students’ knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes about health. It teaches about physical, mental, emotional and social health enabling them to make healthy choices throughout their lifetime.

Health education itself is a purposeful apparatus that helps improve health in developing nations promoting knowledge and prevention not only affecting the immediate recipients but also for generations to come. Much contribution revolves alcohol abuse, tobacco use, injury prevention, mental and emotional health, nutrition, physical activity, prevention of diseases and family life.

But how well-equipped are our students to understand, assess, communicate and advocate the change towards better health? Can they propose such changes towards more equitable health systems? Can they work out of the safety zone to reach out to people at various district or national levels? Are they able to communicate and advocate for public health and health education at national or international levels? The answer to these lie in the quality and efficacy of health education.

A paper presented by UNICEF at meeting of The International Working Group on Education defines the quality of health education as ”Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials, processes and skilful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities and outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.” 

APHA, SOPHE, WHO, DHEP, NCHEC and many other organizations are working actively worldwide to promote public health advocacy and education by improving the standards, capability, and ethics of health education professionals.

The WHO Healthy Cities project indulges governments in health development and promotion and emphasizes on the need to tackle inequality in health, medical needs of people and economic and environmental determinants of health. It has more than 1400 cities and towns as members.

Talking at a global level, most of the health education programmes are densely concentrated in high income countries and very few to none in middle or low income developing countries. Various factors dampen the education process in these areas most commonly the lack of funding but most importantly living in a country in conflict or at risk of conflict.

In spring 2015 Global attitudes survey, when locals were asked “What do you think should be the top most priority for our country?” their top choice was health care, followed by education and government effectiveness. Increasing the numbers of public health professionals in Africa has always been a great challenge for the African region. Hence postgraduate public health training programmes have started in 22 African countries and various online learning methods increased the school’s impact on graduates to address health issues relevant in Africa.

Improvement requires a great deal of enthusiasm and strong devotion. Also Governmental agencies and institutions that promote quality education must move beyond archaic principles, think out of the box and pave a way to help develop the knowledge, awareness,  skills, and attitudes to help people lead healthy lifestyles.

About the author

Maria Khan is currently a student of third year MBBS at Army medical college and a proud member of AMSA and IFMSA-Pakistan for the past two years. She has been associated with publishing for the past five years and has had her articles published in DAWN. She is the member of the college research society AURF and has had the chance to present her research at the 11th annual AURF meeting and the 1st Surgeon General international conference being the youngest of all speakers. Her special interests include research in oncology and pediatrics, learning more about biotechnology and genetic engineering, reading and writing articles.

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