SPONSORED: Behaviour change communication vital in averting health threats among Rwandans

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Manasseh Gihana Wandera, Executive Director SFH Rwanda.

Behaviours - in many areas of our lives - are difficult to change over-night; whether one is adapting new behaviours that would help him/her move ahead, or else changing lifestyle to avert habits that would put his/her health at risk.

This is however possible with behaviour change communications techniques geared towards the affected population or group of people especially when applied consistently to facilitate the affected people to transition from old to new better behaviours.

“People need to be consistently exposed to messages that impact their behaviour and supported to put into practise what they know. It is a very involving continuous process and is the only way effective results can be achieved,” said Manasseh Gihana Wandera, Executive Director SFH Rwanda. 

According to Manasseh, Behaviour Change is a process of aiding people to move from old harmful habits to new and healthier behaviours. The process is rigorous and may begin with spreading information through relevant messages coupled with the provision of a range of health products or measures that would facilitate the targeted population adopt the aimed behaviour by the advocate. “However, empowering people particularly in the health sector with relevant messages to tackle issues is only 50 per cent of the job done. We got to go further and make sure that people have the relevant tools to help them act on the messages. If we are talking about HIV/AIDS for instance, at SFH Rwanda, we not only spread messages to our target audiences on how to adapt less risky behaviour to stop the spread of HIV, we also provide them with condoms at very affordable prices,” Wandera added. 

SFH major interventions are centered on promotion of Behaviour Change practices through improved communication techniques and social marketing of health products and services related to HIV/AIDS, Malaria control and prevention, family planning, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), Maternal and chid health (MCH) and Nutrition. 

Committed to use evidence based approaches to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in all parts of the country, SFH works in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Health Centres in all Districts and Community Based Organizations (CBOs). 

Working to prevent spread of HIV/AIDS

Still one of the major causes of death globally, HIV prevalence in Rwanda still stands at 3 percent (DHS 2015), it is on this basis that SFH utilizes behaviour change approaches coupled with social marketing of condoms and services to stop the spread of HIV among Youth, and Female Sex Workers among other groups. The organization is involved in the promotion and distribution of three different condoms such as Plaisir, and Prudence among other brands. 

SFH works with the youth, and key populations including female sex workers and men who have intercourse with men. “We support our clients by consistently spreading messages to influence them to make safe sex choices and provide them with a range of condoms at an affordable cost. We believe that education and promotion of condoms go hand in hand in the fight against HIV,” Wandera explains.

Through mass media, mid -media and Interpersonal communication, which includes peer to peer education, SFH is able to reach massive number of people. “Peer to peer education has proved to be particularly effective with the younger generation. The young people can freely discuss sexual related matters with their peers and can even find solutions their issues while in small groups. We work with volunteer peer educators to equip them with messages and tools to be able to engage their peers in constructive discussions which can positively influence them to make safe sex choices and even educate their other peers. Wandera explains.

In addition to preventing HIV, SFH has also been at the forefront to prevent and control the spread of Malaria. 

SFH’s work in malaria covers a number of districts and empowers the population with behaviour change communications through Community outreach programs such as Mobile Video units, and drama. These on the other hand are backed by mass media interventions such radio and TV spots and mentions as well as talk shows where people are able to call in live to share their experience or ask questions on malaria prevention and control such as sleeping under Long Lasting treated bed nets In addition, SFH is currently piloting a mosquito repellent cream and repellent coil in partnership with S.C. Johnson & Son Inc and Solar Kiosk which partners with the Coca Cola in five Districts of Nyagatare,Kirehe, Kayonza, Ngoma and Rwamagana. 

SFH’s objective for the malaria prevention and control programs is to ensure that people have 24 hrs protection that is throughout the day and night.

Promoting Family Planning for healthier families 

“It is important for women to be empowered with information and products to enable them to properly space the children they have. When women have the opportunity to decide on the number of children they want and how to space them they can have healthier families,” Wandera says. 

SFH promotes use of its own family planning products branded as confiance pills and injectables. This means one can be administered with an injectable or pills. The organization also educates men on beading as a family planning method whereby a husband and wife can better plan for their children. SFH works with Health Centres in 15 Districts to promote family planning practices but plans to expand to other Districts.

Promoting use of safe drinking water and hygiene 

Hygiene is critical for people to live healthy and productive lives. In the Water and Sanitation (WASH) program SFH spreads messages which encourage people to use safe drinking water and practices simple hygiene behaviours to avoid preventable diseases. 

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Sur eau and P&G used to purify drinking water to prevent water borne diseases.

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Sur eau and P&G used to purify drinking water to prevent water borne diseases.

“We promote use of water purifiers (SUR’EAU and P&G) which clients can purchase at very affordable costs. Behaviours that promote good health are seemingly obvious but people sometimes do not take them seriously so we have to continuously educate them on things as simple as washing hands at critical points such as before preparing food or after using the rest rooms,” Wandera explains.

Nutrition for children below the age of 2 

The first 1,000 days of an infant are very crucial to the proper health of a child. SFH works to educate mothers and mothers-to-be how to have a balanced diet, have proper rest and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. For on year now, SFH has been piloting “Kuza Neza” a nutrious product for children below the age of two years. Recently SFH partnered with Africa Improved Foods (AIF) to distribute Nootri Mama and Nootri Toto products which are fortified foods with important vitamins and minerals for the growth of children.

Promoting Mother and Child Health (MCH) 

“Our work in promoting Mother and Child health is centered on ensuring that pregnant mothers attend a minimum of four Ante-natal clinic visits,” Wandera explains. Attending ante-natal clinics is important to ensure the good health of mothers and their unborn children. Only through the visits can their health be ascertained. SFH also spreads messages about how mothers can prevent themselves from malaria and ensure proper nutrition of both the mother and child.