|Effective Communications for Nutrition in Primary Health Care (UNU, 1988, 208 pages)|
It gives me great pleasure to preside over the opening ceremony of the Asian Regional Workshop on Effective Communications for Nutrition in Primary Health Care.
Science and technology have progressed very rapidly during the past few decades. However, many health problems still exist, especially among poor rural communities in less developed countries. Progress in medical science has, in the past, emphasized the provision of curative health care. Problems of inadequate health personnel are commonly encountered. In recent years, it has been recognized that preventive and promotive health measures are necessities in a comprehensive and effective approach to health-care service.
To enable people to contribute to their own health care, access to information regarding proper practices is crucial. Gaining information, however, does not always lead to appropriate attitudes and practices.
The process of communication we are concerned with is the transfer of messages, the creation of awareness, and the encouragement of sound practices. Communication for behavioural change is not a simple matter, as behaviours or practices may result from years of accumulated experiences from childhood on. The anthropological and sociological backgrounds of population groups are also influential. Communication with the rural poor is diffficult because illiteracy and traditional beliefs and practices further complicate the challenge of effective communication.
Despite these difficulties, I believe that various countries, governments, and institutions have been seeking ways and means to eradicate the problems. The participants in this workshop, I trust, will use their considerable abilities, knowledge, and experience to the ultimate benefit of all Asian people.
Nutrition surveys have shown that in Asian countries the prevalence of malnutrition is still as high as 50 to 75 per cent among infants and pre-school children. While it is fairly obvious that economic factors are important in uplifting the well-being and nutritional standards of the populace, studies carried out by the FAO in Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines clearly reveal that increased income is not always related to improved nutrition, although it does play a significant role. Moreover, an adequate national food supply is certainly not equivalent to adequate nutrition for all a nation's people.
A recent survey of rural villages in Thailand undertaken by the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University, under the supervision of Professor Dr. Aree Valyasevi, has shown that regular and frequent nutrition education, provided with health-care and food-producing and income-generating activities, resulted in a striking improvement in the nutritional status of infants and pre-school children in those areas.
It is clear, therefore, that providing sound nutrition information is vital. Food taboos and antiquated food beliefs and practices that have been passed on for generations have always been a great barrier to modifying eating behaviours or habits. Functional illiteracy related to malnutrition and the poor learning environment in rural settings and among disadvantaged urban groups are among the ecological factors that maintain the vicious cycle leading to malnutrition.
In order to break this cycle, an effective means of continuously transferring information on sound nutrition is imperative. This information must be communicated to people with the aim of creating an understanding of its urgency and importance so that people will be convinced that new patterns and practices related to nutrition are in their own interest.
The use of communication techniques to effect behavioural changes is by no means new. Commercial advertising is a good case in point. Those working in health or nutrition education may gain a great deal by examining such communication techniques and using any aspects that would be appropriate for their field. Health and nutrition educators must be guided by the understanding that communication is the art of giving a part of oneself to other people in such a way that they willingly accept this offering.
Advances in communication technology have enabled us to speak with people around the globe. Very often, however, we see that we cannot even bridge the ever widening communication gaps within our own families.
The challenging task is to find effective communication techniques for nutrition and health education. The questions to be answered are:
H.E. Mr. Bhichai Rattakul
Deputy Prime Minister