Diseases can be broadly classified as communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Few years before in a non-COVID world, 71% of global deaths were due to major non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases. According to the World Health Organization, low and middle income countries bore the brunt of such NCDs with more than 75% of deaths due to NCDs occurring in these countries. India is one such country as well. What’s more, almost 46% of these deaths were of those people who were younger than 70 years.
Cardiovascular diseases accounted for close to half (44%) of the NCD deaths, with cancer (22%), respiratory diseases (9%), and diabetes being the other NCDs in that order causing fatalities.
On the other hand communicable diseases (CDs) such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis cause more than four million deaths each year. Most recently the Corona virus pandemic has added 8,84,028 deaths across 213 countries irrespective of whether they are developed or not. Globally governments are fighting the pandemic through awareness creation about self-hygiene practices and social distancing.
Health education can play a major role in controlling both communicable and non-communicable diseases. There are three types of health education that can influence human knowledge and behavior to combat diseases. They are as follows:
Health Education for Primary Prevention
Primary prevention is all about keeping diseases at bay. For example, we have seen how polio immunization is saving thousands of children from being affected by polio. Health education that tries to influence human behavior before the onset of disease with an aim to prevent an individual getting afflicted by the disease is focused on primary prevention. We see film stars promoting health education across multiple channels.
Similarly today’s younger generation is armed with knowledge and awareness about NCDs such as diabetes, hyper tension, and cardio vascular through direct experience by watching senior members in their own family and friends circles and indirectly through books and the internet. Many youngsters proactively take up regular physical fitness regimen like gymming, yoga or performing arts and consciously avoid junk food to prevent themselves from being affected by life style diseases like their elders.
Today children are taught the importance of eating and living healthy early in life during their primary schooling. Similarly, schools and corporates conduct regular health checkup drives for students and employees to identify onset of any eye or dental issues or any other NCDs. There are also many awareness creation programs that warn individuals to stay away from smoking, alcohol, and drugs. All these awareness creation mechanisms are rooted in the “prevention before onset” approach and therefore fall under the health education for primary prevention category.
Health Education for Secondary Prevention
Health education at the secondary prevention level predominantly teaches people to recognize symptoms and through early diagnosis and if required treatment, stop them from progressing further. For example, the symptoms of corona virus have been reiterated so much that any individual with the slightest hint of fever is sure to get tested for COVID to avoid further respiratory complications. An early detection and treatment of hypertension can stop heart attacks or strokes from occurring.
Health education for tertiary prevention
At the tertiary level, health education plays more of a rehabilitation role. Physiotherapy for neuro patients or for people who have met with traumatic accidents is one such tertiary health education example. These people are taught to walk or move after a crippling incident or disability has affected them and preventing them from conducting normal life. Creating awareness about taking their medications properly is another example for health education for tertiary prevention. Most recently quarantine awareness has helped to address the spread of the COVID pandemic to a certain extent.
An individual’s immediate and larger ecosystem like family and friends circles, educational institutions, community health centers, service providers, employers, and governments play an important role in imparting health education at their levels to ensure the overall well being of an individual and communities.