Evaluating the community education programme of an insecticide-treated bed net trial on the Kenyan coast
Increased interest in the potential contribution of insecticide-impregnated bed nets (ITBN) to malaria control has led to research efforts to determine the impact and sustainability of ITBN programmes in differing environments. There is a need to develop effective, feasible educational strategies that will both inform and motivate community members, and thus maximize the correct usage of ITBN. This is especially true in communities where indigenous usage of bed nets is low. This paper describes the educational component of a randomized controlled community intervention trial of ITBN, with childhood malaria morbidity as an outcome. The educational approach and messages for the ITBN trial were developed from anthropological survey data collected 4 years before the trial, and from community surveys conducted by project researchers. Low levels of understanding amongst mothers of the aetiological link between mosquitos and malaria led to the exclusion of the term 'malaria' from the initial educational messages promoting the use of ITBN. Appropriate individuals within the existing district health care structure were trained as community educators in the project. These educators conducted intensive teaching in the community through public meetings and group teaching in the first 6 months of the trial. The impact of these initial activities was assessed through interviews with a random sample of 100 mothers and 50 household heads. This allowed the identification of messages which had not been well understood and further educational methods were chosen to address the areas pinpointed. The community assessment also demonstrated that, in 1994, over 90% of mothers understood a protective role for bed nets against malaria and the ITBN education messages were changed to take account of this. The school programme was evaluated through determining outreach (the number of households accessed), changes in participant children's knowledge, post-teaching assessment of mothers' knowledge and discussions with parent-teacher associations. It was shown that 40% of intervention homes with children in the target group were accessed, participant children learned the educational messages well (scores increased from a pre-teaching mean of 59% to a post-teaching mean of 92%) and a high level of awareness of the ITBN trial was achieved in these homes (75%). However, specific messages of the education programmed were not well transferred to the home (30%). The discussion emphasises the need for allocation of adequate resources for education in programmes dependent on achieving a change in community practices. We also describe the value of ongoing communication between programme planners and a target population in maximizing the effectiveness of messages and methods used.