“It is not about food aid. We do not need food in Rwanda. We need education.” Dr. Agnes Binagwaho was recently quoted, as saying, by Jay Rayner of the Guardian newspaper. Her words perfectly describe and echo attained achievements in the health sector courtesy of the Information, Education and Communication efforts.
Recently, following intensified efforts aimed at strengthening education on key health issues, the Rwandan population has taken a leading role in disease prevention and improving their standards of living.
Education and communication has led to change in beliefs, attitudes and perceptions on different health issues like the use of family planning methods, an increase in women attending antenatal checkups and giving birth at health facilities, thus, putting Rwanda on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals especially on maternal and child mortality.
Curbing child mortality, hand in hand with improving access to family planning services, has enabled parents to give birth to children that they are able to look after.
Today, in Rwanda we are noticing a tremendous shift from large and traditional families to smaller, healthier and manageable families thanks to education and communication strategies aimed at sensitizing the population on the benefits of family planning.
Currently, in Rwanda, the average size family is shifting from six to under four children. Without education, based sensitization and awareness on family planning this would not have been attained.
As a result of investment in education and communication especially at the grassroots and community level, we are experiencing a visibly increasing number of people that visit health facilities to seek treatment.
Improved hygiene and sanitation, increased subscription to health insurance, a significant decrease in maternal and child mortality rates, and the current steadfast efforts aimed at curbing and fighting malnutrition and decrease in malaria cases, are among the main achievements where the role of education and communication has had visible impact in regards to changing people’s beliefs, perceptions, practices and attitudes, consequently, life expectancy at birth is currently at 52 compared to 25 in 2000.
Education and communication have played a pivotal role in the ongoing campaign to fight against malnutrition by providing the right information about food and feeding practices, giving the ordinary Rwandan vital information on promotion of Kitchen garden Akarima k’Igikoni.
Promoting the rearing of small livestock (goats, rabbits, chicken) and the household consumption of their produce (meat and eggs) to improve protein intake, the growing and consumption of fruits and vegetables at household level, consumption of micronutrient-rich foods (soya, groundnuts, mushrooms, sweet potato varieties that contain carotene.etc.), cooking demonstrations sessions at village level and promoting appropriate hygiene practices. We cannot ignore the need to incorporate Information, Education and Communication among strategies to foster disease prevention.