Rise in Covid-19 stirs health communication debate

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020 00:00 |
An elderly man undergoes a COVID-19 nasal swab test. Photo/Courtesy

Bernard Kimani 

In October and November, the country has experienced more coronavirus cases, even higher than numbers experienced when the disease first broke in the country in March.

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

Closer home, even as the country appears shaken and putting all measures to control its spread, there seems to be a disconnect between sensitisation, enforcement and change of behaviour. 

Accordingly, increased cases of infections has brought fore the question of the importance of effective health communication.

This can be described as the practice of communicating promotional health information, such as in public health campaigns and health education to influence personal health choices by improving health literacy.

Consequently, communication is at core of who we are as human beings. It is our way of exchanging information. 

One fundamental creed of health communication is the need to conduct extensive formative evaluation; audience needs assessment and message pretesting. This sadly appears not to have taken place in preparation of the virus outbreak. 

For health communication to be effective, it is important to employ appropriate strategies, including  shaping materials and products and selecting channels that deliver them to intended audience, 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.

In this regard, the government still need to provide adequate information on Covid-19.

Kenyans need to be aware of what to do to avoid contracting the disease and what actions to take in case they contract the disease. 

Consequently, using a diversity of communication networks can allow health messages to shape mass media or interpersonal, small group, or community level campaigns.

When formulating such strategies, it is important to consider overall communication goals of the intervention.

It is also necessary to understand the target population so that content created is relevant to it.

It is important to tailor messages to the communication channel being used.

Further, using multiple communication and media strategies will ensure a broader reach.

It is also vital to ensure the target population has access to the channels in use.

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

Large gap between expected and achieved quality in healthcare can be attributed to ineffective communication between health providers and receivers.

Similarly, large gaps in awareness of individual health arise from inadequate communication. 

Consequently, health communication has become an accepted tool for promoting public health.

Its principles are often used today for various disease prevention and control strategies including advocacy for health issues, marketing health plans and products, educating patients about medical care or treatment choices, and educating consumers about healthcare quality issues.

At the same time, the availability of innovative technologies and computer-based media is expanding access to health information and raising questions about equality of access, accuracy of information, and effective use of these new tools.

On the other hand, poor communication has a strongly negative impact on outcomes of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Improvements in communication in healthcare settings, invariably lead to better health outcomes.

Furthermore, these interventions may contribute to greater equity in health and healthcare for socioeconomic, educational and minority populations.

Consequently, better health communication will lead to improvements in prevention, motivation for behaviour change, and adherence to treatment in case of an outbreak of coronavirus. — The writer is a communication Specialist and certified public relations analyst

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