In an effort to combat Egypt's high prevalence of pneumonia infections, Healthy Egyptians Association for Development has released a short computer-animated film to convey a health, educational message to children as well as parents in an entertaining and simplified way.
The film “Montasser Overcomes Pneumonia” aims to reach audiences with limited health literacy, as is the case of many in developing countries with high rates of pneumonia fatalities, and teach techniques to improve health outcomes in the lives of Egyptian children.
According to Ministry of Health’s statistics, pneumonia is the biggest killer of under-fives in Egypt killing 14,000 children each year. Additionally, 99 percent of pneumonia-infected children belong to developing countries claiming more lives annually than AIDS, malaria and measles combined, according to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
The seven and a half minute film recounts the story of a young boy, named Montasser, who rescues other kids from the unhealthy environment in which they live by the help of his doctor’s advice before the bacterial pneumonia attacks their vulnerable bodies.
Throughout the challenging mission, the film displays the causes that might lead little kids to fall a prey to the disease, how to recognize its symptoms and the best means of prevention and treatment.
The animated movie has recently been screened through a portable child cinema installed in a big truck that is set to tour the country.
“The project is first-of-its kind in the Arab World where children can watch the movie inside the truck, while a team of our professors offer their expertise to parents waiting outside,” said Mohamed Zaazoue, neurosurgeon and the founding president of Healthy Egyptians.
“We aim to demolish the concept that health education is exclusive to doctors. If you haven’t studied medicine, you would never encounter a single health education subject in your school, university or career,” said Zaazoue stressing that health literacy has led to high morbidity and mortality rates from preventable diseases.
Zaazoue and his dedicated, enthusiastic young volunteers stepped up gears since 2011 to change the deeply rooted culture in the minds of average Egyptians and create a demand for such a type of beneficial knowledge.
The animated movie’s idea stemmed from the success of a series of cartoon coloring books, having the same hero’s name of the film, in which Montasser overcomes a different disease or bad health habit possessing a health burden in Egypt and the region.
In order to stimulate the interest of more children to their campaigns, Healthy Egyptians drew attention to the cause through puppet shows, role-plays, quizzes, puzzles, treasure hunts and cardboard games.
“Visual and interactive educational techniques resonate with broad audience better than providing theoretical tools or giving seminars,” said Rana Soliman, pharmacist and one of the organization’s founders.
The non-governmental organization puts great emphasis on low-income neighborhoods and governorates where little access to health education is available. Consequently, many parents in these remote areas are often unaware of contributing factors that cause child pneumonia.
Pneumologist Manal Mansour said that the country is in dire need of such awareness campaigns and medical caravans for ill-equipped parents.
“Some mothers fail to diagnose pneumonia because its mild signs are similar to those of a cold or flu. Accordingly, children are treated wrongly and sometimes are not even taken to see a doctor.”
Mansour went on to explain that parents, especially in rural areas, are not aware of the grave threat the indoor air pollution poses to children well-being.
“Cooking over open fires, poor ventilation and inadequate nutrition are among the attributes for spreading pneumonia,” Mansour said.
“Underestimating the importance of teaching kids simple, yet essential, hygiene behaviors, such as brushing teeth and washing hands, can have lifelong consequences and can even lead to death.”
With a core group of 20 people and some 400 volunteers around the country, 50,000 parents and children have been reached to raise their awareness about pneumonia and iron deficiency anemia at university hospitals, social clubs, impoverished areas and schools.
Additionally, 14,500 high-risk children were given free vaccination in a number of participating university hospitals vaccinated using Prevenar (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Qena, Sharqiya and Sohag.
Besides believing in the importance of providing knowledge at home on health matters, the Healthy Egyptians team has introduced a medical knowledge subject to Ministry of Education to be incorporated in the curricula of primary school students over the country.
“It is a cycle,” Soliman said. “If we instill proper hygiene behaviors in our children at young age, we can have a strong health infrastructure that can fight the disease and prevent the rate of infection to escalate any further in next generations.”
The initiative, however, has not been scheduled to see the light yet.
“This is only the beginning,” Zaazoue said in an optimistic tone. “We are working on creating more cartoon books on intestinal catarrh and other diseases and hopefully we can get more financial support for coming up with new beneficial films in the near future.”