Changing Health Behaviors

For the last two weeks I have had the privilege of facilitating the training of two different groups of Field Medical Representatives (FMRs) here at the Imvepi and Odobu clinics. These young adults have most recently been trained to be out in their own refugee camp communities - diagnosing and treating the common diseases of malaria and diarrhea - especially among children. But GRI recently decided to seek to expand their roles from just doing such diagnosis and treatment, to educating community members on disease prevention and health. The goals: change behavior towards healthy practices, uplift the health of the community, and give skills/ knowledge that the FMRs will, ultimately, take back with them on that long-awaited day-- when they will get to return to their homes in South Sudan.

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This ability to change health behaviors is enhanced by training of the FMRs on how to use a pictorial health flip chart. This durable tool was produced in the US, transported to Uganda as I came, and distributed to the FMRs as I taught.

Its brightly-colored illustrations show the messages of maternal, child, newborn, and general family health topics--with reminder facts on the back to help guide the FMRs in their teaching in homes.

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Over 20 topics, including early, exclusive breastfeeding, weaning nutrition, family planning, pregnancy care and danger signs, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and the sanitation and hygiene were throughly covered in the groups using participatory learning techniques.

But, additionally, communication, negotiation, and behavior-change techniques were discussed. Likewise, the participants were exposed to alternative community education techniques that they experienced-- like role play, drama, storytelling, singing, and demonstration. They had a visit from a "human-sized" mosquito-- demonstrating the transmission of the malaria parasite. They sang songs that taught disease prevention. They came up with their own dramas to illustrate real life dilemmas and solutions about making health choices. The FMRs will be able to use all that of these techniques when they do community teaching sessions.

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As I had the additional privilege of handing out their certificates of achievement on the last day, I was grateful to God to be able to witness not only the planting of the seeds of healthy life in these desperate refugee communities, but also the budding of hope in the hearts and minds of these future leaders in health of the people of South Sudan.

-- Dr. M. Lynn Fogleman

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