Dissemination of health messages
Ideally, all health education messages should be pre-tested before being used more widely. Pre-testing is testing the message with representatives of your target audience before the message is disseminated to a wider audience. Without pre-testing, a message stands the chance of becoming ineffective and detached from the needs of the target audience. You may not need to conduct large scale pre-testing. For example, when you teach mothers about family planning at your health post, you can ask them how well they understood your message, their reactions, and how comfortable they are with your methods. In your future health education activities, you will be able to modify your approach as a result of getting this feedback.
Once your health education message has been developed, the next step is to disseminate the message to the respective audiences that you are trying to reach. Dissemination means conveying or delivering the message to each audience at a variety of different places. This is the actual implementation of your health education activities. However, you should keep in mind that health education is more than the simple dissemination of health education messages.
In order to bring about behavioural change, dissemination of your message should be accompanied by other supportive activities which facilitate the behaviour change process. For example, you need to clarify misunderstandings, elaborate the content of the message with examples, and identify barriers that may prevent people from performing the beneficial behaviours. This may also involve providing the resources needed to perform the health-related behaviour, such as providing condoms or other contraceptive methods if your message is about contraception. It may also be necessary to address any cultural factors which discourage the desired behaviour.
In Ethiopia, most mothers do not exclusively breastfeed for the first months. There may be various reasons for this unhealthy practice:
- Mothers may not understand the benefits and the exact period that is best for exclusive breastfeeding (Figure 15.4).
- Husbands and grandmothers may prefer to start additional food too early.
- Community leaders may not understand why it is important to support exclusive breastfeeding for the first months of the baby's life.
Think about what kind of messages and supportive activities you could undertake in order to promote exclusive breastfeeding. To help you do this, think particularly about whether you would give the same message to the mothers, the husbands and grandmothers, and the community leaders.
Of course, you may not have thought about this before, and only have a couple of ideas. Table 15.1 provides a fairly full answer, and gives you an idea of the way that an experienced Health Extension Practitioner might tackle this issue.
Table 15.1 Health message dissemination
|Mother||Breastfeeding is a proof of your love. Take good care of your child from birth. Give your child breastmilk so the child will grow well and be strong. Breastmilk is the only food that a child needs to protect him/her in his/her first six months.|
|Husband and grandmother||Help mothers practise exclusive breastfeeding so your children and grandchildren will grow up to be healthy, strong and intelligent.|
|Community leaders||Promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first months. Advocate this behaviour and encourage the mothers.|
|Reinforce the message at every contact with the mother||Provide breastfeeding counselling and support during antenatal care, delivery, and immediately postpartum, as well as during postnatal, family planning and immunization sessions. Your health education activities should clarify misunderstandings, and you can always elaborate the content of the message with examples. Your work should identify barriers and help mothers to overcome these barriers.|