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Saturday 17 August 2019
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The Impact of Health Education on Informal Settlements in Windhoek

University of Namibia   – Department Lifelong Learning and Community Education.
Over the past few decades the city of Windhoek experienced, a rapid growth of urbanization. This has put tremendous strain on the health sector of the city. It is known that the healthier a country’s population the stronger its economical workforce.
Thus communities living in informal settlements with poor health conditions are directly affected. This can be contributed to the accelerated migration of rural people into urban areas causing informal settlements to grow beyond the capacity of the city to provide adequate service. This is further compounded by the lack of political and municipal will to address this modern phenomenon, resulting in persistence of urban poverty and informal settlements.
The challenge to eradicate informal settlements and address inherent health inequalities is a massive one.  These rural communities, many of whom are poor, often illiterate and unskilled try to find employment in the city. This further leads them to be exposed to crime and violence, living a life of fear and low social status.
The effects on the youth are visible through aggressive behavior in order to cope with their surroundings. The subsequent overcrowding causes severe pressure on municipal services with accompanying environmental pollution. The occupational health and safety hazards faced are often added to those of poor living environments, poor nutrition and unsatisfactory housing.
According to the Millennium Development Goals of the country improving living conditions and access to quality healthcare for these informal settlements are slow.
The overcrowding and poor housing coupled with the dirt and lack of financial resources contribute to the presence and spread of varied infectious diseases in these settlements, affecting mostly women and children. Eradicating the poor health conditions in these settlements requires education and proper health planning.
Social factors amongst others, the lack of culturally appropriate services, language barriers and prejudiced. Health care workers are preventing poor and marginalized people to services.  This population group often lacks the basic understanding of how to navigate the health system, and is therefore vulnerable to unethical health workers.
The benefits of effective and sustainable hygiene education programs in informal settlements are numerous and include a reduction in the infant mortality and diarrheal diseases, improved environmental pollution, and improved conditions of living. Hygiene education programs are among the most cost effective ways of lowering healthcare especially in high density settlements were residents are at greater risks to poor sanitation related diseases. More emphasis on training and the use and maintenance of toilets are imperative. Education will have the ability to change the mindset and behaviour of those communities in a positive way.
The country suffers massive financial losses through health expenses on diseases that could be prevented very easily.
Educating school children on basic hygiene and sanitation is very important. Children are generally eager to learn and this can instill and promote positive behavioral change in other children. This can have a positive impact on effective learning, reduction on infectious diseases, and environmental cleanliness. Children and older adults who receive education should have a longer life expectancy.
Access to health educational opportunities for these settlers provides the foundation for future access to economic opportunities. They are not covered by social protection or comprehensive health care commonly suffer poverty related diseases, unless covered through a work related injury.
Therefore, education equips people with knowledge and skills for daily living, increases opportunities for income and job security, provides people with a sense of control over life circumstances and enables them to participate fully within their communities and broader society. It is important that appropriate skills training and ongoing support may be effectively planned and implemented. The municipal officials, NGO’s, and government officials must aim to improve the general well-being of the settlers in a socially responsible and inclusive fashion.
Through partnerships this will create much needed social development and capacity building through sustainability of services and providing employment opportunities for these communities. An effective program design can address these behavioral and sociological dimensions of health-seeking behavior by mobilizing the community to actively seek health care and raising awareness about the range of available services. A sense of community ownership into the health programs will leave the informal settlers with a sense of dignity and pride but at the same time bringing about social improvements.
The aim of health education in any country is to reduce vulnerability and improve health seeking behaviors in order to reduce risks of diseases and death. A secondary benefit is the reduction of healthcare cost. Specific programs should be developed that will help build self-confidence and self-esteem in order to overcome the stigma of social exclusion.  Empowering marginalized woman can further help promote health, through women’s networks that will build social capital and strengthen social cohesion. Health and financial programs can improve the standard and quality of life and personal well-being for the settlers.
There should be constant support from communities and local leaders, through interactive learning programs, that should be encouraged to promote a wider support of health education initiatives. This at its core requires that the causes of poor socio-economic conditions of informal settlements be recognized and addressed effectively.  Effective education, appropriate skills development and economic growth forms the basis of human capital needed to transform our country in a positive way.




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