COMMENTARY

Why companies should champion preventive health programs

They should go beyond CSR.

In Summary

•Businesses have a vital role in promoting the health agenda as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

•They should focus more on building healthier communities in a more sustainable manner to achieve long-term positive impact.

A mother demonstrates how to use a mosquito net/
A mother demonstrates how to use a mosquito net/
Image: /FILE

Covid-19 has strongly underlined the need for more robust health systems capable of not only coping with severe disease outbreaks and delivering affordable and accessible care to all but also focused on preventive health programs targeting the most vulnerable communities. 

Businesses have a vital role in promoting the health agenda as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

But they should go beyond CSR and focus more on building healthier communities in a more sustainable manner to achieve long-term positive impact.

This entails investing in sustained community awareness on disease prevention especially in poor communities lacking access to adequate health infrastructure.

While it is the responsibility of governments to provide health care to their citizens, businesses have a cardinal duty as responsible citizens to contribute to the health and wellbeing of communities. 

For instance, they can engage in health promotion which is described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the process of empowering people to increase control over their health through health literacy efforts and actions to increase healthy behavior.” 

Health promotion can be at the individual and community level.

For example, businesses could encourage employees and consumers to embrace healthy lifestyles and even engage in producing goods that help meet this aspiration. 

Companies can also support initiatives aimed at boosting the ability of communities where they do business to prevent the spread of diseases, by improving general hygiene and containing disease vectors like mosquitoes that cause malaria. 

Corporate social investment in preventive health activities can occur at two levels.

First is supporting health awareness campaigns specifically targeted at reducing the disease burden.

With Covid-19 already straining the health system, there is an urgent need to prevent the resurgence of killer diseases like malaria, HIV/Aids and TB. 

This calls for partnerships involving government, private sector, professional bodies and civic actors in the health space to enhance the resilience of vulnerable groups in society.

A good example is a recent partnership Pwani Oil entered into with the Kenya Professional Nurses Association (KNPA) to help fight malaria in Kilifi County. 

The project involves educating local communities on malaria prevention through the use of mosquito bed nets and other simple measures like using soap containing mosquito repellants like Detrex bathing soap.

Kilifi County has among the highest prevalence of malaria in the country, with 20-50 people out of 1,000 in the county diagnosed with the disease in 2019.

 Lack of access to mosquito nets and other basic malaria interventions constitutes a major gap in the fight against the disease in the county.

Working with KPNA and the county government, we are optimistic the project will help reduce the incidence of malaria among residents thus saving many lives especially expectant mothers and children under the age of five years who are most at risk.  

Second is strengthening the capacity of frontline workers in our health facilities to provide optimal care even in settings that are challenging due to lack of adequate medical infrastructure.

In this regard, Pwani Oil has been collaborating with KPNA to support nurses, a most critical but often neglected frontline health workforce, in improving their working conditions and wellbeing. 

Given their interface with patients at medical facilities, nurses are crucial in both population-based and individual-based initiatives to prevent illnesses.

Recently, during the International Nurses Week, over 530 nurses took part in preventive health awareness activities in Kwale County. 

Health promotion also involves supporting early treatment of potentially debilitating medical conditions, for example, free eye treatment to prevent corneal blindness, a project we supported in Siaya County. 

Other preventive health interventions companies can support include early immunization and vaccination of children, nutritional support and improvement, and promoting healthy lifestyles to combat non-communicable diseases.

 Mr. Malde is Commercial Director at Pwani Oil.

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