OIMEKE: Incorporate health education in school system to prevent future pandemics

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has now become the world’s most challenging political and socio-economic crisis since the second World War.

In Kenya, it has sent the country to one of its lowest point in our five-decade post-independent history. As we intensify our efforts to consign the coronavirus into the dustbins of history, new questions have emerged as to how prepared we are as a country if such a calamity was to recur in years to come.

Since Kenya made it to the unfortunate list of countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases, the government through President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ministry of Health and other public agencies have led from the front to implore Kenyans to observe a set of preventive measures to keep the dreaded virus at bay.

Our media spaces and platforms have been awash with public service announcements with simple and clear content: that the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 which has claimed more than 150,000 lives and affected over two million people around the world, is to maintain very high standards of hygiene: wash your hands properly; cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Maintaining social distance and staying home if you are sick have also been cited as critical in fighting this global pandemic.

As this public education drive continues, we need to ask ourselves how we can make it more sustainable so that public hygiene becomes part of our national culture and ethos. When one takes a look at our laws, health occupies a very central position.

Article 43 of our constitution states that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to healthcare services. To reinforce this, the Ministry of Health augments this with a mission to build a progressive, responsive and sustainable health care system for accelerated attainment of the highest standard of health to all Kenyans.

In sync with this, affordable healthcare for all Kenyans is one of the cardinal goals of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big 4 Agenda. The sum and substance of these provisions is that at face value, the ordinary Kenyan is well covered as far as access to affordable healthcare is concerned but where does that leave health education for our people?

The other day, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe complained bitterly that Kenyans are not observing the preventive measures against Covid-19. He said that impunity had reared its ugly head as social distance rule and stay home advice have largely been ignored by Kenyans.

As the country grapples with these critical questions, it is important to observe that our collective national culture and behaviour as Kenyans is majorly to blame for what we are seeing. Even if government agencies intensify their policing round the clock to ensure public compliance to the Covid-19 preventive measures, we are still likely to behave badly unless we change our culture.

Methinks that one way of confronting this challenge is to start offering mandatory health education lessons in all our primary, secondary schools and tertiary institutions to inculcate a culture of personal and public hygiene in all our young people.

Looking at the age distribution of those affected in the country, it is evident that the coronavirus is affecting the more productive members of our society. This means that we need to start empowering our young people with modern health education tips to help them fight not just Covd-19 but also any future pandemics that may come our way.

There is no better avenue of doing this than in our institutions even as we introduce the competency-based curriculum in our school system. I therefore urge all the relevant state and non-state actors to urgently begin a countrywide engagement to design health education modules for all our learners in our schools to prepare the country for future public health challenges.

As the present generation of leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children are equipped with the right health education tools to be able to survive and thrive in tomorrow’s economy.

A wise man once said that if you want to plan for one year, plant a seed; if you want to plan for five to ten years, plant a seedling; but if you want to plan for fifty to a hundred years, teach the people! Let us prioritise health education for our children as we prepare them to drive our country’s future growth.

The writer – Pavel R. Oimeke – is the Director General, Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA). Email: robert.oimeke@gmail.com

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