More than ever, diseases of public health importance are becoming a great source of worry for communities and nations. New diseases are emerging, creating uncertainties and fears in the minds of people. Weak health systems, distrust in public institutions, misinformation or lack of information, and the spread of rumors, myths, and misconceptions, have contributed to limiting prevention and control efforts.
While you may be thinking of diseases such as the Coronavirus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19) and perhaps Monkey Pox, you may also be interested in knowing that the common, endemic disease in Nigeria called Malaria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), remains a life-threatening disease causing 627,000 deaths globally, out of which 96% occurs in the African region. The disease has taken a higher toll on children under 5 years of age and pregnant women, even in Nigeria.
To prevent malaria transmission and deaths, the Centre for Communication and Social Impact (CCSI) functions as an implementing partner of Breakthrough ACTION-Nigeria, a Social and Behavior Change (SBC) project in Nigeria funded by the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), to promote the practice of positive health behaviors such as seeking prompt and appropriate care for fever, testing before treating all fevers and encouraging completion of the full dose of the recommended malaria drug, sleeping inside insecticide-treated mosquito nets all night and all year round, and uptake of intermittent preventive treatment of malaria by pregnant women.
CCSI contributes to the promotion of positive health behaviors by coordinating the activities of community volunteers who have become agents of change in their communities, hence saving lives daily. Specifically, the community volunteers conduct participatory compound meetings involving women and children under the age of 5 years, during which myths and misconceptions around malaria are dispelled, mothers are encouraged to seek early care for their children when they develop a fever, and pregnant women who are at high risk for malaria are also encouraged to register for Ante-Natal Care (ANC), attend all the sessions, and take the recommended intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) to protect them and their unborn babies from harm.
The community volunteers also use a similar session called community health dialogues, to encourage men to discuss health issues with their spouses, support their wives by encouraging them to register for ANC, by attending ANC with them, and by allowing their wives to make family decisions around health. In doing so, the volunteers reveal that gender equity and mainstreaming are at the core of the project’s focal priorities.
Through these community-level Social and Behavior Change approaches, the burden of malaria in Nigeria has significantly dropped, more people are using insecticide-treated nets to protect themselves and their families from malaria, and there is hope that these would translate to improved health outcomes for Nigerians, especially for pregnant women and children under the age of 5 years.