For decades, a false culture has been deeply embedded into the mindset of the people from developing countries that health education is exclusive to physicians. If you are not a healthcare worker, you will never encounter a single health education subject in your school, university or professional career. This total neglect of health education has lead to scarily high morbidity and mortality rates from diseases, otherwise considered preventable in the developed world.
The problem with this culture is that it made it extremely difficult for any social entrepreneur to fight the lack of health education using mundane activities. The provision of any product or service to the community will have to follow the market’s oldest rule, that of demand and supply. Since people in the developing world have no demand for health education, therefore, any attempt to spread such type of education would be considered useless and unnecessary by the general public. As Thomas Rochon has once proposed that cultural change involves one of three modes: value conversion, value creation and value connection. In this case, any enthusiastic person tackling this important issue will have to ‘create’ a value for this type of education. In other words, he will have to make the people realize that they actually have a need for health education.
While the outcomes of spreading health education are self-evident (including elevation of the general health of the population, decreased morbidity and mortality rates and even increased productivity of the healthier population), the education has to be provided in an innovative, culture-changing manner.
My colleagues and I at Healthy Egyptians, an Egyptian-based NGO, have created a number of innovative tools that spread health education to children while ensuring that the process will be both entertaining and informative. We have created a coloring comic book, telling the story of a boy called Montasser, and have named the series of books “Montasser Overcomes”. In each book, Montasserovercomes a different disease or bad health habit prevalent in the developing countries, including pneumonia, the number one killer under the age of 5 years. Later on, we have transformed these stories into cardboard games, puppet shows and even a high quality cartoon movie, in an attempt to be as creative as possible while providing the children with accurate health educational messages hidden between the illustrations of the book or the cartoon- for instance, the evil characters in the coloring book “Montasser Overcomes: Pneumonia” are named Hemo and Nemo, after Haemophilus influenza and Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common causative organisms of pneumonia.
The reason behind targeting children with most of our tools is that if we raised up a complete generation with a culture-changing approach that health education is a part of every child’s educational curriculum, there will be no need for social entrepreneurs like us in 20 years to think of innovative ideas to spread something as basic as health education to children.
Preventive medicine consists of measures taken to prevent diseases rather than curing them or treating their symptoms. For a preventive intervention to be applied widely it generally needs to be affordable and highly cost effective. Health educational tools are one of the cheapest interventions than can be used to spread health awareness amongst a population. In addition, it is easily replicable in other countries since the illustrations in the Montasser Overcomes comic books and cartoons can be easily understood by any child worldwide, regardless of his/her native language.
So far, I have produced two books and a single cartoon episode, but I am planning on producing a series of books and cartoons, covering the whole spectrum of diseases prevalent in the developing world. These tools will be provided free of charge to any interested entity worldwide with the only condition that they would be used for non-profit purposes.
Health education is not quantum physics to find so much resistance to introduce it into the curricula of schools in the developing countries. A health education subject in developing countries can be as simple as a coloring book, or a cartoon episode.
Dr. Mohamed Zaazoue is a 26 year old neurosurgery resident in Egypt and the founding President of an Egyptian-based NGO called Healthy Egyptians. He has become an Ashoka fellow, the youngest fellow worldwide in the field of health, and has been recognized by Forbes as one of the most influential people under the age of 30 in the field of social entrepreneurship in their “30 under 30” list of 2014. Zaazoue has been awarded and featured in a report in the Financial Times in their “Urban Ingenuity Award”.
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