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Letters

LETTERS: Public health awareness crucial in corona war

Street boys wash their hands
Street boys wash their hands following a health campaign to prevent the spread coronavirus in Nairobi on Saturday. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT 

The World Health Organisation recently declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Kenya, on the other hand, recorded its first case on Friday, March 13, 2020.

Indeed, over the last few months, the world has been on high alert due to coronavirus that has posed huge risks to human life around the world.

The disease, which was first reported from Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019, appears far from being put under control.

Latest information indicates that disease has spread across the globe with Europe becoming the new epicentre of the virus.

This illustrates that the disease is still posing a serious threat to human life.

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Although the global response to this endemic has been swift, there has been concern over the impact that this disease in terms of human life and business.

Even as the world appears shaken by this pandemic and putting all measures to control it, the virus could spread unabated if effective and continuous countermeasures are not urgently undertaken.

Coronavirus has brought fore the question of the importance of effective public health awareness strategies in Kenya.

Public health awareness here can be described here as the practice of communicating promotional health information, through campaigns and education.

The reason for disseminating health information is to influence Kenyans’ health choices by improving health literacy.

Effective public health awareness is driven by proper communication. One of the fundamental creeds of public health awareness is the need to conduct an extensive formative evaluation, the audience needs assessment and message pretesting.

The Health ministry should provide adequate information and health literacy through all relevant media channels. This is the only sure way of controlling the spread of the disease.

For public health awareness to be effective it is important to employ appropriate strategies to shape materials and products as well as selecting the channels that deliver them to the intended audience. Others are understanding of cultures and settings, consideration of health literacy, Internet access and media exposure of target populations and development of information, educational and communication materials.

Kenyans need to be aware of what they should do to avoid contracting and spreading the disease as well as be aware of the action to take in case they contract the disease.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation, especially in social media about the disease. The government needs to counter this by providing the right information before the misinformation starts creating panic.

The government should employ a diversity of communication networks as this will allow health messages to shape interpersonal, small group, or community level campaigns. Public health awareness strategies should aim to change people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

So, when formulating public health awareness strategies, it is important to consider the overall communication goals of the intervention. Also, understand the target population to create relevant content. Using multiple communication and media strategies will ensure a broader reach. The target population should have access to the communication channels used.

The government must understand that public health awareness plays a significant role in determining individual and community health status.

Effective public awareness can improve the health outcomes of acute and long-lasting conditions, reduce the impact of disease and socioeconomic factors and improve the effectiveness of prevention and health promotion.

However, the large gap between expected and achieved quality in healthcare can be due to ineffective public awareness between public health providers and receivers. Similarly, the large gaps in awareness of individual health arise from inadequate communication.

On the other hand, poor communication hurts the outcomes of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Improvements in communication in healthcare settings, invariably lead to better health outcomes. These interventions may contribute to greater equity in health and healthcare for socioeconomic, educational and minority populations.

Better health communication leads to improvements in prevention, motivation for behaviour change and adherence to treatment in case of an outbreak of coronavirus.

Bernard Kimani, Nairobi

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