As a sales representative with Pfizer, I have spent countless hours in the waiting rooms of numerous medical facilities. As I’m waiting, I try to make good use of the time by placing patient education materials on the tables and shelves that adorn the office. Most often these patient education materials get lost in the piles of books and magazines scattered throughout the office. One thing that I have enjoyed in the time that I have been in Rwanda is learning about different approaches to patient education. Instead of brochures, imagine if a drama, dance and singing troupe came into the office while the patients were waiting to be seen. The troupe’s sole purpose was to educate the patients about cancer, HIV/AIDS and the different medical options available. An attention grabbing performance would undoubtedly do the trick of entertaining while educating the patients.
Television shows like “Glee” and “American Idol” are popular because they entertain audiences. Glee, a show that focuses on a high school glee club, has a teacher who regularly encourages students to sing about their troubles. In Rwanda, ninety percent of the country’s eleven million people live in rural areas. To combat illnesses such as tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the Ministry of Health in Rwanda placed behavior change communication high on its list of priorities and listed it as an essential part of health care delivery for every health facility. The 2006 National Behavior Change Communication Policy for the Health Sector, stated that “lack of basic information and the limited outreach of health information are serious barriers to appropriate behavior towards prevention of disease and health care seeking, especially in rural areas. At the same time, the low level of education, especially when matched with elements belonging to old traditional practices, are important risk elements, creating an environment promoting risky behavior.” The recommendation was to use many different interventions, products and channels for a broad community approach. Behavior Change Communication interventions include local drama, dance and vocal companies like Urunana, Intore, and Imena, which have been successful in educating the public about health issues, through radio programming and live events. I had the opportunity to attend Rwanda’s annual Health Journalism awards in March, with one of my co-workers, Malick, who handles information, education and communications for the Neglected Tropical Diseases unit of the Access Project. The Ministry of Health sponsored the event, and many notable journalists gathered at the Kigali Serena Hotel to pay tribute to their peers who reported successfully on health issues. At the event, there was a powerful skit about HIV/AIDS performed by a local drama group, highlighting the importance of keeping oral traditions alive in order to educate more people about the deadly illness. I also had the opportunity this past week to attend an “Arts and Health Forum” which featured presentations from local artists, dancers and actors, as well as discussions about the importance of the arts in public health, health promotion and health care. The event featured a puppet show about a male puppet that contracted HIV/AIDS from a lover. The puppeteers mentioned that they started using puppets so that they could talk more freely about the sexual issues that surround HIV/AIDS, without risking offending their audience. As I sat in the audience and watched these powerful and moving performances, the message transcended the Kinyarwanda language in which it was delivered. The music, dance and dramas conveyed the pain and anguish of people dying from deadly diseases and served as a warning for the audience, to seek early treatment and take the medicines prescribed to them. It is often said that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and developing countries like Rwanda, have proved their ability to think outside of the box and develop creative and often entertaining ways to educate their population about disease and treatment. It’s an approach to health education that would have patients in waiting rooms all across America, tuning in.