ICT4RD: Introducing Speaking Books to Rural Communities

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy organisation, made a presentation on the topic, ‘Rural Health Education Using an Audio Visual Technology’, earlier this week at the SANGONeT ICT4RD Conference in Johannesburg.

Health education and promotion are hampered by challenges related to low levels of literacy and lack of trained professional health personnel and community workers. Illiteracy is a health threatening issue. Poverty is almost always equated with isolation in many places. Poverty results from the lack of access to emergency health services which are often far-fetched and under-resourced.

Global illiteracy threatens nearly 900 million adults; two out of three of them are women. Illiteracy levels are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States and in East Asia. The literacy levels in Sub-Saharan Africa are just over 60 percent. The consequences of illiteracy impact negatively on communities.

Vulnerable and disadvantaged communities are more likely to confuse the medication regimen, not able to understand medical procedures, fail to navigate the health system and most likely to stop their treatments prematurely, thereby raising challenges in treatment and compliance.

It must be noted that in Sub-Saharan Africa 64 percent of people live in rural areas, 50 percent work in the agricultural sector and 73 percent of these are smallholder farmers.

The use of traditional pamphlets and brochures has proved ineffective for rural communities with low levels of literacy. SADAG has over the last six years developed and distributed an innovative health education and communication tool - a speaking book for these rural communities.

The ‘Speaking Books’ are audiovisual books with a sound box that has 16 key messages. The voice is triggered by simply pressing one of these 16 key messages. Each message plays for 30 seconds and the whole book plays for less than eight minutes. The book has an on and off switch.

The ‘Speaking Books’ are user friendly, can be played at leisure, in privacy and the messages can be seen and heard. Research has shown that each book reaches up to 27 people.

The organisation has produced over 54 titles on health and social development topics ranging from HIV and AIDS, TB, malaria, hypertension, maternal health, clinical trials, vaccines, the use of safe medicines, understanding your mental health, to getting government grants. The Department of Social Development is producing this particular book for disadvantaged communities in local languages.

Other country specific requirements have included such languages as Portuguese, Kiswahili, French, Comorian languages, Amharic (Ethiopia), Spanish and Mandarin.

The Speaking Books are supported and funded by donors and distributed to rural communities free of charge. The books have been endorsed by governments, international organisations, CDC, John Hopkins Centre of Communications, Acumen Fund, USAID and UNICEF.

- Elizabeth Matarem is the CEO of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

For more about the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, refer to www.sadag.org.za.

For more information about the ‘Speaking Books’, refer to www.booksofhope.com.

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