Primary healthcare practitioners must enhance community collective health consciousness to improve health literacy

Being health conscious is the awareness one has towards his/her diet, general life style and their general well being and how to stay healthy. Primary healthcare practitioners are well placed to improve one’s health consciousness. Regardless of what cadre of health worker the primary healthcare practitioner is they are the front line healthcare workers that people consult. In low to middle income countries like PNG and other countries in the Pacific, the bulk of the primary healthcare is delivered by nurses and community health workers.

So how can we improve health consciousness? Continuous and sustained health education messages, awareness programs, training programs, focus group discussions, peer to peer group programs are mechanisms by which various types of health messages can be delivered. The messages need to target specific diseases with high burden in the community. The messages must also be targeted at the various demographic age groups in the community. Various media outlets will need to be utilized as well.

Young people should be priority because once this segment of the population become health conscious, they can continue to practice healthy habits into their adult life. Many research has been done in engaging peer to peer health education. Here is one example.

My observation in PNG has been that many health initiatives are started but sustainability of those initiatives has been a great challenge. Most times the funding stream dries up but there are also other contributing factors. I have met healthcare workers who have left health programs resulting in the collapse of the health initiatives. Security risk is also a significant factor influencing continuation of programs. For example doctors working for the MSF had to leave the Southern Highlands of PNG when tribal fights broke out. Their departure resulted in collapse of certain programs they were implementing.

When I see patients, I try to spend a significant portion of my consultation time talking to them about healthy diet, keeping physically active, keeping mentally engaged in something positive and having a good sleep hygiene. I try to keep patients off medicines as much as possible and prescribe only if necessary. I also have observed in my experience over the years that patients do not like taking too many tablets, especially chronic patients (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure etc) so I discuss with them and try to remove some medicines and keep only the ones really necessary. I have found this strategy works and patients are more willing to try healthy habits. Because I always put it straight to them that if I remove a medicine, they have to make a permanent life style change. I think such opportunities are a powerful way to improve one’s health consciouness.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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