05.04.2020 Feature Article

Communication: A Critical Tool for Health Education/Promotion in a Critical Time

Communication: A Critical Tool for Health Education/Promotion in a Critical Time
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Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO, 1947), is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing of an individual and not merely the absence of diseases or infirmities. Thus, the health triad is quintessential in all matters. In a bid to ensure that the health of individuals and societies are in good shape, the health care system provides different levels of operation on the health continuum.

Within the health care continuum, there are three levels: primary health care, as well as secondary and tertiary health care. Primary health care focuses on preventive and curative care. Hence, there are a number of ways to achieve this: through health education and health promotion, strengthening of disease surveillance and contact tracing, vaccination, immunization, etc. All of these aforementioned primary health care provision will be futile if proper communication of such interventions are not considered.

Whenever there is an outbreak of a disease or an epidemic or pandemic, the first reaction from the population is panic. When this sets in, there are three outcomes: denial, silence and acceptance. When we ascribe to silence, no cause of action is taken and people die. On the other hand, denial breeds stigmatization and leads to a vicious cycle of blame game. However, when we accept the situation, the necessary course of action is taken and the effects thereof are mitigated. In order for us to reach the level of acceptance, communication must play a pivotal role.

Communication may generally be understood as the process of sending a message through a conduit to a receiver with the aim of arousing understanding and receiving feedback. Thus, without proper understanding at the end user's side, communication can be deemed as having been ineffective.

Specifically, in the arena of health care provision, the sender in this case are the health care providers, that is, the health promoters and health educators. This cohort must be clear in their delivery. Simple language, preferably in the language that the end user or receiver can fully comprehend ought to be used during health education and health promotion interventions. Less of technical words and jargons should be used in order to arrive at the desired outcome.

Importantly, there is the need for health educators and promoters to use the local dialect or the mother tongue of the intended audience. Any nation or state that shuns or inhibit the use of its mother tongue in communicating essential policies and interventions as in the case of health education/promotion is destined to suffer dire consequences for such actions.

Particularly in the context of Ghana in the wake of the COVID-19, communication of health care interventions and preventive actions must be strictly disseminated in all of the Ghana's 42 local dialects. Yes, indeed the country's demographics shows that about 82% of men and 67% of women in Ghana are literate (GDHS, 2014). However, the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey report (2014) fails to show whether it is about literacy for English language or all languages spoken in Ghana. Hence, it is safe to assume that the percentage quoted are the proportion of Ghanaians who can read and write any of the languages spoken in Ghana. For that matter, providing health education and promotion in the local dialects will be instrumental in helping to ensure that the population actually adheres to the health measures and do not misconstrued information provided.

Again, in the communication process, the choice of media is very important. There are variations in the type of communication media that individuals have access to. For instance, from the 2014 GDHS report, there are variations in terms of place of residence of the individual, the wealth quintile, age and educational level. For that matter, the choice for communicating health education and health promotion should be based on evidence; data. This will help to ensure that the targeted audience receive the message in order to achieve the desired outcome.

In conclusion, health promotion and health education forms part of primary health care. In order to achieve Primary Health Care for All, there is the need for health care communication to be given the needed attention. The health educators must be trained properly to know how to come to the level of their targeted audience. Their messages should be clear, precise and concise. The medium for communication is equally important and must be chosen based on evidence from reliable data.

The Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service must provide all required logistics that will make health promotion and education more effective particularly in the wake of the novel Corona virus pandemic. The government of Ghana through the Ministry of Information should provide updates on the COVID-19 and the concomitant measures to mitigate it in the various local dialect. When these things are done, we shall limit the spread of the pandemic and ultimately win the fight against the COVID-19.

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