The saying that ignorance is bliss may not be true when it comes to our health. Health awareness and education plays an important role in ensuring we stay hale and hearty. According to the World Health Organization, health education is a blend of learning experiences designed for individuals and communities to help improve their health, by increasing their knowledge or influencing their attitudes.
Why is Health Education Important?
In recent times, whenever we make a call, we hear awareness messages about the pandemic. Telecom and other service providers and organizations worldwide have joined hands with the governments to educate people about the pandemic and its prevention. Such mass communication targets communities to create awareness, and strives to find solutions for ailments plaguing that community. Besides such pandemic related education, many other areas of wellness within a community include chronic disease awareness and prevention, infant and mother health, tobacco and substance use, mental and behavioral health, injury and violence prevention, diet, nutrition, and overall fitness.
Principles of Health Education
- Credibility: It all boils down to who communicates. An authentic health care professional with the right education and right experience is qualified to impart health education. Based on proven scientific knowledge, health education should align with the local culture, contextual social goals, and education system.
- Interest: A successful health education program hinges on the interest it can generate in the recipients of the program. For this the education should be on real felt needs of people as against educating them on something, which is not applicable or doesn’t matter to them. For example, health education to children should start with food and personal hygiene as against awareness about diabetes or blood pressure.
- Participation: The participation level by the people who receive health education decides the success of the program. Having their buy-in and cooperation while creating the structure and methodology of imparting health education is a good way to create interest early in the program.
- Motivation: This could be of two types. One is intrinsic motivation caused by a driving need such as the current need to understand about the COVID-19 pandemic and contain it. Second is motivation through external factors. As parents, you can reward your children’s health and hygiene related good behavior and see their motivation goes up and consistency in practicing that improves.
- Comprehension: Including health jargons in the education program may help to improve credibility of the educator. But on the flip side, it is going to be tough to retain the attention of your audience if they don’t understand the concept or its importance or the solution. All health educators must use local language and appropriate local methods and contextual examples to impart health education.
- Reinforcement: For any learning, reinforcement is very important to remember and retain what we learnt. Homework, exams, and practical projects exist for the sake of reinforcing what has been taught. Health education should be a continuous process at regular intervals with activities to reinforce the concepts and incorporating feedback mechanisms.
- Learning by doing: You can take a horse to the water, but can’t make it drink water. Likewise, how much ever health education is taught, unless the recipients practice that regularly by doing, the effect of the education will not be up to the desired levels. Health education providers should include generous hands on activities while designing the curriculum or while training the communities.
- Known to unknown: Health education should start with what people know already, and then move on to what is easy to understand, and only later proceed to teaching new concepts. Don’t expect quick results.
- Role model behavior: The first and foremost requirement for a health educator is to be a role model and practice what one preaches. Credibility stems from such role model behavior and people get motivated and tend to follow a leader who is setting an example and leading by action. Identifying many such leaders who can lead change with action will help in the success of health education.
- Human relations: End of the day nothing works like the equation we have with various people. When logic doesn’t find a solution, relationship can go a long way in achieving something difficult. Do set aside time to build a healthy relationship irrespective of whether you are imparting health education or a recipient.
The successful outcome of health education lies with the voluntary acceptance and regular practice by the people and communities that participate in the program. The above principles aim to guide the educators as well as the communities in achieving such successful outcomes.