The importance of education cannot be stressed enough when discussing how to combat ineffective healthcare systems and ineffective healthcare practices. Many issues that occur in local healthcare systems stem from a lack of health education. In environments where natural processes such as menstruation are stigmatized, young adults find themselves without the tools they need to navigate issues or changes they may face. A staggering 44% of women around the world do not know what is happening to them when they get their first period. In the rare situation when schools provide information about puberty, the information is often limited to the biological process and not more practical information, such as how to use sanitary products.
Sex education is also a necessity to prevent potential health issues. Studies have shown that students who receive sex education in school are benefitted in the long run with lower instances of teen pregnancy and STIs. Despite this, in the United States [as of 2018] only 13 states had legal requirements for physical education teachers to keep information scientifically and medically accurate.
Often, these subjects are not taught or not taught accurately because educators feel uncomfortable, parents forbid it, or schools tailor their curriculums to fit the needs and beliefs of a particular religion. However, when it is extremely clear that reproductive health education leads to a healthier population in the long run, more should be done to make scientifically accurate education available to children all over the world.
Other forms of health education, such as education regarding diet, exercise, and hygiene, should also be readily available. Such education would lower rates of disease transmission and ultimately lead to fewer healthcare expenses and increased longevity. Providing resources such as soap and water to a community can result in an almost 50% reduction in preventable illnesses, and a significant decrease in death rates. To highlight the importance of education and basic hygiene resources, we can look at the lives of two young people living or working in refugee camps and compare their stories.
Ayman (last name unknown/confidential) lived on the Greek island Lesbos, in one of the largest refugee camps in the region: the Moria camp. In this camp, citizens often did not have access to soap and water. There was no proper sewage system, a complete lack of health education, and no real means for social distancing during the pandemic. Additionally, there wasn’t any access to PPE. Ayman and his family prayed every night that the virus would not come to their camp. Soon enough, however, a refugee on the island of Lesbos became infected with the Coronavirus. Authorities then placed tighter restrictions on refugees. Soon after, a tragic fire destroyed the Moria camp. Before the fire occurred, the refugees in the camp were living in horrible conditions. The camp was vastly overcrowded [20,000 people lived in a facility constructed for 3,000] and refugees kept arriving on the beaches of Lesbos. After the fire, hundreds of refugees, including Ayman and his family, had no place to live for extended periods of time. Many of them contracted COVID-19 as a result of exposure and the loss of their temporary homes- their only means of social distancing. To this day, refugees on Lesbos continue to live in difficult conditions with no end in sight.
Ahmed works in the Kambioos Refugee Camp in Dadaab, Kenya. When he first arrived at the camp, there was an appalling lack of hygiene, and many refugees were dying of preventable diseases as a result. However, his story has a happier ending than that of Ayman. Catholic Relief Services arrived at the camp and began to distribute supplies such as soap and water. They provided hygiene and health education, teaching refugees about the practice of hand-washing. They installed latrines in the camp to help contain and prevent the spread of preventable and communicable diseases. They encouraged garbage collection and regular sanitation of latrines and living spaces. The CRS also trained many local refugees, providing them with information on good hygiene practices so that they could educate others in the camp. The impact that health infrastructure and education made on the Kambioos camp was enormous. Thousands of deaths from diseases such as cholera and diarrhea were prevented. The lives of countless children and vulnerable elderly refugees were saved. Ahmed is a CRS volunteer and one of the CRS’s many trained hygiene promoters.
The effect that health education and supplies can have on a community is clear. Those who are given access to soap, water, and health education live happier and longer lives than those who are not. It is up to people who have access to these resources to help spread them to low-income communities and refugee camps to save lives.
Many lower-income countries do not have the resources to provide sanitary equipment and education to their citizens. However, there are many ways that organizations and young people can help provide desperately needed resources to low-income communities all around the world. I’ll discuss some methods of advocacy later in this report.