Targeting Children as the Primary Audience for Public Health and Malaria Programs

Our second Guest Posting by Erica Kuhlik examines important questions on the relationship between communicable and non-communicable diseases.

blog-posting2-kuhlik-pic1.jpgTargeting children of primary school age with health education and behavior change interventions is essential in developing countries.  Due to the success of illness prevention programs targeting children under the age of five in developing countries, more children survive longer than ever before.[1]  This is an incredible achievement for public health, but also means there are more older children at risk of illness and death from diseases like malaria.

For instance, one study in Kenya found that despite living through the most vulnerable first five years, children of primary school age still suffered an average of 25 episodes of illness over the 30-week study period.[2]  Our photo shows an application of this idea where members of the malaria club prepare to present their skit about malaria at Jolly Mercy Primary School in Wakiso District.

The result of chronic illness on children is tragic.  Repeated bouts of malaria can cause anemia, increased susceptibility to other diseases, and long-term neurological problems.[3]  Chronic illness also causes children to miss school and reduces their capacity to succeed.[2] The extent of serious illness among children in developing countries makes them prime targets of health interventions.

Such interventions are met with success because children of primary school age are at a stage in their lives when they are both impressionable and beginning to develop new habits.[4]  Children are open to learning healthy habits and behaviors that will help prevent the diseases to which they are vulnerable, like malaria. Additionally, the aforementioned study showed that in 19% of the illness episodes, children were self-treating using herbal remedies and Western medicines.2

blog-posting2-kuhlik-pic2.jpgThese results show that children have the capacity to take responsibility for their health and also suggest that health education programs can target children with information on disease prevention and treatment.  Children can share what they learn as seen in our photo where a student at Nakatunya Primary School in Soroti District displays her malaria message.

Taken together, children represent a population that can be highly vulnerable to disease, in need of health interventions, and in an impressionable stage of their lives, thus allowing for the opportunity to introduce healthy habits and behaviors to reduce their burden of disease.

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All pictures were taken by the author with permission from August to October 2012.

  • [1] Bundy, D., Shaeffer, S., Jukes, M., Beegle, K., Gillespie, A., Drake, L., Lee, S. F., Hoffman, A., Jones, J., Mitchell, A., Barcelona, D., Camara, B., Golmar, C., Savioli, L., Sembene, M., Takeuchi, T., & Write, C. (2006). School-Based Health and Nutrition Programs. In D. Jamison, J. Breman, A. Measham, G. Alleyne, M. Claeson, D. Evans, P. Jha, A. Mills, & P. Musgrove (Eds.), Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries (pp. 1091-1108). New York City: Oxford University Press.
  • [2] Geissler, P. W., Nokes, K., Prince, R. J., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Aagaard-Hansen, J., & Ouma, J. H. (2000). Children and medicines: self-treatment of common illness among Luo schoolchildren in western Kenya. Social Science & Medicine 50, 1771-1783.
  • [3] Malaria Consortium
  • [4] Harre, N., & Coveney, A. (2000). School-based scalds prevention: reaching children and their families. Health Education Research, 15(2), 191-202.
  • For more information see: Kolucki, B., & Lemish, D. (2011). Communicating with Children: Principles and Practices to Nurture, Inspire, Excite, Educate and Heal. UNICEF.

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