Day 5: Outreach in the community: Health promotion

Tania Haas is the health and wellness writer at Medcan. She produces the monthly newsletter and the articles found here 

On our February trip, out of the six team members, we were lucky to have four clinicians. Stacy was one of the two non-clinicians, and I was the other. Stacy was very busy working on the business relationships and strategies that make Naweza a sustainable organization. As for me, my role was to be the documenter, interviewer and surveyor of the trip. I was to witness, observe, record and report. You can read my blog from Day 2 here, and see the videos I produced in the previous and following blogs.

But on Day 5, our outreach day, when there were hundreds of people waiting to be seen for hours on end, I really wished I was a clinician so I could help lighten the load and serve more people. Instead, I did the next best thing: health promotion. In the morning, I sat for hours with women, men, teenagers and children. In the afternoon, I toured local homes to document the design and impact of their kitchens so that people back at home could have a better idea of the quality of life of many of the Naweza patients. This is my report. 

Helping people help themselves

The WHO defines health promotion as "the process of enabling people to improve their health through improving control of modifiable risk factors." Health promotion goes far beyond health care. It increases health awareness for the public and policymakers in all sectors and directs them to be aware of potential health consequences of personal choices.

At Medcan, I act as a resource for people who want to live their best life. If they are ill - how can they get better? If they are well, how can they become great? For example attain their health goals through improved sleep, strength or mental resilience?  Over the last three years, I've interviewed physicians, psychologists, chiropractors, researchers, fitness trainers, registered dietitians. Before Medcan, I worked at Mount Sinai and Sick Kids hospitals in Toronto, and so over the years I've collected a lot of health and wellness insights. 

After all the clinicians and nurses were settled in their individual rooms, I surveyed the setting and set up a health promotion station under a tree. 

With a little bit of shade offering us a bit of relief, I led a Q&A session to help pass the time as dozens of patients waited to be seen by a Naweza doctor. I likened it to the webinars we host at Medcan, where I was playing the role of knowledge translator. I told the 30 or so people gathered before me that I was not a nurse nor a doctor, but I could pass on information that I've collected as a journalist. 

Tania leads a dynamic Q&A session while local community members wait to be seen by Naweza doctors and nurses.

Tania leads a dynamic Q&A session while local community members wait to be seen by Naweza doctors and nurses.

With the help of my trusty translator, Rosaline, we went through the A - Zs of health topics I've covered for  One of the first questions I was asked was related to sleep. "How can they get better sleep? How can I stop my mind from racing when I am trying to sleep?" This is a common question in Canada as well, and I've written numerous articles on it. So I talked about the importance of sleep hygiene, including turning off all phones and televisions a few hours before bed; limiting caffeine intake to before 2pm; reducing stimulating sounds or smells in the bedroom; or starting a bedtime ritual where you journal your thoughts on paper before turning off the light. We discussed the concept of meditation and mono-tasking -- focusing on one task at a time. 

From sleep, the conversation turned to technology. While few sub-Saharan African communities have adequate medical resources, most have a strong mobile signal (96 per cent of the world is connected by a cell phone).  So cell phone addiction is as much as a problem in Kenya as it is in Canada.  We talked about how can you best manage technology so it doesn't manage you, the main point being: Loss of control is the hallmark of an addiction.  We talked about the pros and cons of leaving your cell phone out of the bedroom; of taking "technology breaks" throughout the day, and especially at night. The mothers of the group were especially vocal about their teenagers using cell phones too much -- and so we discussed how a digital device can be much more than just entertainment or education, it can be a window to the outside world.  That being said, you may be using your phones or computers too much if you are noticing slipping grades, hostility, highly sensitivity, strong preoccupation with the phone and not being interested in formerly enjoyed activities. The teens were reminded that true freedom is the ability to choose. 

After technology, there was a question about lower back pain. Many of the women work in the fields in order to have food on their table, and a lot of their tasks require them to bend at the hips. Many of them said they suffered from lower back pain -- much like Canadians who suffer from musculoskeletal injuries. So, here, I took a cue from Andrew Miners, the director of sports and rehabilitation at Medcan, and discussed how movement is medicine. 

I displayed a few exercises and encouraged the audience who gathered to work on their core strength. (I'm also a certified yoga teacher so my teaching core exercises wasn't too much of a strength). My demonstrating the exercises triggered a lot of laughter -- and I hope some consideration to move and strengthen more. 

We covered numerous other topics: constipation and diarrhea; the benefits of fibre and eating greens; how sugar alters the brain and the persuasive powers of soda pop advertising; the importance of drinking enough water; the dangers of cooking in a non-ventilated kitchen; and so on. The desire for health information was very high. Many questions were asked and a lot of discussion ensued. 

I wondered how much health promotion is available in their communities, on their radios or online. I took some notes on how to make the presentations stronger and more effective for next time: include visuals, posters and have more group or partner work. Rosaline was very enthusiastic and maintained the audience's attention throughout. As I've said before, without her, my outreach would not be possible. 

In the afternoon, Rosaline and I left the shade of our narrow trip and ventured out to tour the kitchens and cooking areas of the local homes. 

Videos and photos in the next blog.