By Mandy George, IFRC 

The cool remote hills of Mogok and the dry, dusty river bank of Sagaing appear to have little in common. But in both areas, groups of people huddle around often the only TV in the village, engrossed in videos about different health topics that affect their daily life. This is part of an initiative by the Myanmar Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies via the British Red Cross and corporate donor ONO, to improve the impact of health education in remote communities in Sagaing and Mogok as part of a Maternal and Child Healthcare (MNCH) Programme.

The Myanmar Red Cross has provided 40 hard to reach MNCH programme villages in Sagaing and Mogok with TVs, DVD players, speakers, solar panels, batteries and a compilation of educational films on different health issues. Health education is a major component of the programme and the addition of this audio-visual technology is having a positive impact on how people learn, retain information and change their behaviour towards safer health practices. The equipment, a community resource, is managed by the local village health committees or community volunteers. They use at a range of community gatherings, including village meetings and mother clubs, monthly gatherings of a group of caregivers, mainly females, who come together to discuss various maternal and child health topics, share practices and support each other in adopting positive behaviours.

In Palaung Kone San village, a two-hour drive into the mountains from the mining town of Mogok, a community health worker and Red Cross volunteer is leading a health education session. Zin Mar Oo, 35, demonstrates hand-washing to a group of around 50 men, women and children in the local monastery and then follows the demonstration with a Red Cross hand-washing video that includes a song. The tune is infectious, and everyone sings along. Zin Mar Oo explains the difference this equipment has made to health education sessions.

“Before, the health sessions were not exciting and not a lot of people came along. Now everyone in the village participates and even brings their children. Because of the films the health education is much more interesting and engaging. Visual aids like the videos and flipcharts are particularly important for children and illiterate people who can learn so much better with these tools,” says Zin Mar Oo, community health worker and volunteer of Myanmar Red Cross.

The films cover a range of health, water and sanitation and first aid topics. Often the most popular are those that deal with every day hazards facing the communities, such as treating burns or snakebites.  One resident of Kyaung Ma Gyi village in Sagaing gives an example, “Before we saw the Red Cross film on how to treat a snakebite, we thought that you are meant to cut open the skin where the bite is and squeeze all the blood out until it turns white. Now we know to bandage it with a tourniquet and splint and go immediately to the hospital. This is very useful for us because we have so many snakes around here.”

Another great example

Malaria, a major health threat in Mogok, is also being tackled through raising awareness of the causes and clearing erroneous beliefs. U Maung Myat, village administrator from Palaung Kone San village in Mogok says that before, the community thought malaria was originated by eating certain plants. With the films and courses, people are conscious of mosquitos causing this disease; so they now sleep under nets and developed knowledge on how maintaining proper surroundings to prevent mosquitos breeding. Locals used to think that this was optional, but now they are informed about how to keep their homes and village clean for friends and family. “Film is proving popular with the younger generation and behaviours are changing. The children are so familiar with the hand-washing video that now they ask us for soap to wash their hands before every meal! They listen to the video more than they listen to their elders! We are so grateful because this equipment is such an advantage for us and has really helped with the health education in the village. For instance, we have been able to reduce diarrhea cases by better washing our hands. A few videos go a long way,” says village health committee leader of Kyaung Ma Gyi village in Sagaing.