September 25, 2017
Many of us have heard the phrase, "knowledge is power," and understand the idea that comes along with it. The more we know about the world around us, the more power we have to move ourselves through it, and to change it. Of course, having correct information is important, but even having incorrect information initially, and then making mistakes or missteps, is valuable. Information alone can transform a person and give them the ability to alter their own life.
Along the hepatitis C treatment cascade there are many points of focus for improvement. Many of us rightly focus on testing, surveillance and linkage to care. Education often comes as an addendum to any of these things, but hardly ever stands alone. "What good is education if I can't provide a test?" might be a question you've asked yourself before, or struggle with daily. It's a topic that came up at a recent training which led to a good conversation about the value of education by itself.
Even if all you can do is provide education in the form of brochures or presentations there is value in this. Of course, education's potential is unlocked through purposeful action, but the initial stages of realization, understanding and motivation are important. Education isn't only for people who we are trying to get tested. As you can see on the HCV Advocate's website, education is important at all stages of the treatment cascade. It helps people learning about how the virus is transmitted and how to keep themselves safe. Or those preparing for their first doctor's visit and anxious about what to expect and what to ask. Maybe they are even beginning to take a certain medicine and they want to learn more about what they are taking, the side effects and what to expect. These points along the treatment cascade are spots for education, but not as a passing addition. They are points where full, robust and dedicated education can be provided apart from the testing, linkage to care and treatment.
I'll admit that funding is hard to come by for education alone, but there are many resources including the HCV Advocate where materials can be downloaded and redistributed for free. We all want to make the greatest impact possible on our communities and those we care about. We must not lose hope or become discouraged just because we can't do it all. Networking opens the doors for us to provide what we can and then direct people to our partners and friends who can provide what we can't.
A gentleman at the training mentioned that they have many people who come to their agency to receive a test who say they were prompted by an educational brochure or talk they had received weeks or months ago. He stressed that without the education those people received, they might not ever have walked through their doors to get a test. Many other people spoke up as well about the importance of education. We can't overlook the power of one small gesture. Giving a positive result or making a referral to the doctor will have less of an affect, and maybe no affect at all, if people aren't equipped with the knowledge and skills to feel motivated to act. Hearing the stories and conversation of those in that training reminded me even if all we are providing is education, and feel as though unless we can also do testing and linkage to care we aren't doing anything, we are wrong.
People find comfort, strength and self-confidence in education. They find connection through conversation and bonding. They find self-confidence by taking what they've learned back to their friends and family who may not be ready to come in and give that education back. They find the strength to move forward with their own treatment and in doing so can move those around them forward as well.
Matthew Zielske is the training manager for the Hepatitis C Support Project's "Train-the-Trainer" workshop. He has a Master's in Communication with a focus on health communication and health literacy.
[Note from TheBodyPRO.com: This article was originally published by HCV Advocate in September, 2017. We have cross-posted it with their permission.]
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