An Initiative Approach of Ministry of Health and Sports for Promoting Health Literacy in Naga Land of Myanmar

  • (Dr.Than Lwin Tun, Dr.Kyaw Thu Swe, Dr.Phyu Phyu Aye)
    (Ministry of Health and Sports, Myanmar)
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    Naga ethnic people perform the traditional dance as the celebrate their traditional new year. Photo: MNA

Nagaland is a self-administered zone (SAZ) consisting of 3 townships within Sagaing Region, in the northwestern part of Myanmar. As stipulated by the 2008 Constitution, the Naga SAZ comprises the townships of Leshi, Nanyun and Lahe, its administrative seat. The Naga people represent one of the most distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar, not only because of their well-known traditional warrior costume but also because they have been guaranteed a Self-Administered Zone. However, they are yet one of the most vulnerable populations and Nagaland is the least developed part of the country, in great need of basic health care, education and infrastructures. There are no proper roads for motor vehicles and therefore, it takes about two or three days to reach outlying villages. Food and supplies for the local people are delivered by motorcycles, especially in rainy season. Deprivation of proper infrastructures, and difficulties in communication and transportation are the root causes of several complicating consequences in Nagaland, including malnutrition, disease outbreaks and low levels of health knowledge and literacy. While a self-administered zone, the provision of healthcare remains the responsibility of the Union Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS). The assignment of ministry’s staff in the isolated area has been a challenge for long a time.
The Nagaland got attention in 2016 after reports about a mysterious infectious disease outbreak had been mentioned in news media. The disease, which was not yet identified at that time, started affecting people living in HtanKhawLanma village of Lahe Township in June of 2016. The disease spread quickly to other villages, including those in Nanyun Township and a number of children had been reported dead. The health authorities in both regional and union levels were notified about the outbreak and reported symptoms of the disease were fever, coughing, rashes, red and sore eyes. After hearing the news, the health officials from MOHS traveled to the area and confirmed that the so-called mystery disease was actually a measles outbreak. Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by the measles virus and spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of those infected. It may also be spread through contact with nasal secretions. But, it can be prevented effectively by measles vaccination. In response to the outbreak, the MOHS as well as the directorate of medical services of the Ministry of Defense sent medical teams to the areas where the outbreak occurred, and set up a vaccination program. On the special request from the Ministry of Health and Sports, Basic Health Staff actively participated in a 6-month temporary assignment under the management of Sagaing Region Health Department and leadership of MOHS and Sagaing Region Government. U Thant Zin Oo, a Health Assistant, received an award from the State Counselor in 2016 for his outstanding performance in the health campaigns in Nagaland.
Naga community is comprised of several tribes and clans, and Naga People speak 89 different languages and dialects. However, there are many similarities between the different languages spoken. Language barriers also pose significant challenges when providing effective health education messages and quality healthcare. The modern-day society is celebrity-obsessed. The celebrities influence the people to embrace an array of knowledge, attitudes and behaviors that affect health of the people in general, because celebrities are highly influential people whose actions are watched and often imitated by their audiences. In order to disseminate the health information messages correctly and effectively in Nagaland, the Chief Minister of Sagaing Region Government appointed a Naga ethnic model and movie star, Marie Cole, as the Health Literacy Promotion Ambassador for Nagaland-2018.
This innovative approach in health promotion sector is particularly important for the people of Nagaland and recorded as the first appointment of a Health Literacy Promotion Ambassador to the remote communities of the country.
The Union Health and Sports Minister has also guided the health care professionals to improve their efforts to increase public understanding of health issues as well as to promote health literacy as a priority.
It is anticipated that the health advocacy with a local celebrity from the Naga community will lead to increased awarness of healthcare and the adoption of positive hygiene habits in Naga SAZ.

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