Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
While the government of Egypt is estimated to spend up to six percent of GDP on health and there are more physicians in Egypt per 100,000 citizens than in most developing countries, morbidity and mortality rates in the country are high and increasing. Up from an already alarming 46 percent in 2010, for example, Egypt’s child iron deficiency rate rose to 51 percent in 2011. Not only does iron deficiency anemia lead to impaired physical and cognitive development in children, as well as an increased risk of morbidity, it also reduces work productivity in adults and contributes to 20 percent of maternal deaths. Egypt is also among the top 15 countries accounting for three quarters of childhood pneumonia cases worldwide. Termed “the forgotten killer of children” by UNICEF, pneumonia is indeed the leading killer of children under the age of five in Egypt. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), proper nutrition and hygiene account for 50 percent of the solution when it comes to preventing pneumonia, while vaccination accounts for 47 percent (the remaining three percent is a permanent variable). Yet Egypt’s National Immunization Program has not been updated in over 15 years and does not include the pneumonia-fighting vaccines. Indeed, Egypt’s health focus has been primarily focused on treatment, largely ignoring the role of prevention. The few times that the government has brought health educationto citizens have been during times of sudden outbreaks such as the swine and avian flu epidemics that swept through Egypt.
And while the supply of health education is low, so too is the demand. Underpinning this situation, Mohamed believes, is a general assumption that medical knowledge is complex and reserved for doctors. Mohamed connects this unspoken consensus to the fact thatanyone who is not a medical, dental, or pharmacy student never encounters a class on health education in their entire academic career ---- not in middle or high school, not in university.These students grow up to become adults who do not think to seek health information and doctors who do not think to share their exclusive knowledge. It is not uncommon to find patients who only know the name of their disease and how to take their medication. They do not know what the disease does to their body, what the dangers associated with not following the treatment protocol are, what other treatment options exist, or how to prevent getting sick in the first place. This stark segmentation of health education in the schoolsis onlyfurther compounded by traditional notions of authority- especially amongst an older generation of Egyptians - which also affects the doctor-patient relationship. This passivity toward health education not only threatens to see the traditional diseases go unchecked, but alsoposes a challenge to tackling the increasing advent of lifestyle diseases in Egypt.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Mohamed is targeting all socio-economic segments of Egyptian society with an approach that is less about combating any one specific disease, and more about moving Egyptians from the role of passive consumer of medicine to that of active health seeker. First, he has set off to make learning about preventive medicine interesting and user-friendly, recognizing the current perception that it is a tough and boring process to become aware of allof the various diseases and all of their corresponding symptoms and preventive measures. A series of competitive quiz games held everywhere from hospital waiting rooms to makeshift tents in the desert and a newly created character featured in coloring books, puppet shows, and a soon-to-be television cartoon serieshelp achieve this. Mohamed targets children as a key leverage pointin this process recognizing that the prevailing passivity toward health has not yet been ingrained in them and that parents are much more likely to pay attention to information related to their children’s wellbeing than to their own.
Mohamed has simultaneously zoned in on the importance of having the medical profession also play its appropriate role in encouraging a culture of active health prevention or wellness. For this, he is going directly to the source and reorienting future doctors while they are still in medical school away from an approach centered on simply giving medication instructions to patients to one of health educator, partner and collaborator. Already having mobilized more than 400 medical school volunteers in almost every governorate in Egypt for his health awareness campaigns, Mohamed is aiming to introduce credited field work as part of the medical school curriculum to yield more empathetic doctors who can effectively relate to and communicate with their patients. Mohamed is also recruiting and mentoring other groups interested in specific health issues affecting the country, offering them a legal umbrella – his Healthy Egyptians CSO – with hopes of creating a broad coalition of local organizations focused on helping Egyptians lead proactively healthy lives.