PAHO collaborated with the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR) to train Health Advocates (HAs) from Jamaica in support of a multi-country research study named CONTACT - Congregations Taking Action Against NCDs. The study includes the training of health advocates (HAs) to support health promotion activities for their places of worship (POW). The impact of their interventions is being monitored and evaluated.
This will result in the widening of the network of persons who are able to provide reliable and consistent health information on NCDs to persons who may otherwise not seek out such information from a health professional. These health advocates will be supervised by the nurse-in-charge at the nearest health centers. It is expected that the HAs will complement the health professionals and extend the impact of the health centres into the communities including the POW, providing the human side of health care by focusing on “high touch” rather than on “high tech.”
The HAs will operate in health centres, POWS and communities to empower individuals to assume responsibilities for their health including the adherence to health advice. Health Advocates will also provide services such as blood pressure measurements, advice on healthy lifestyle choices such as increased physical activity, healthy eating habits and weight loss – changes which have been shown to be effective in preventing or delaying the onset of chronic diseases. The health advocates will serve as connectors between health care consumers and providers to promote health.
The study posits that an effective response to the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will require innovative interventions from all of society. As such, religious organizations are important community assets which enjoy credibility in the eyes of society and help to shape values and attitudes.
The feasibility of this intervention and its likelihood of effective scale-up is being tested for one year across four communities (2 urban and 2 rural) in the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) in Jamaica.
Already, some 23 health advocates have been trained by members of staff of CAIHR using a standardized curriculum which includes didactic presentations and practical sessions.
The CONTACT study is also being conducted in Guyana and Dominica.