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Since 1985, the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan has run the Urban Health Program (UHP), a community-campus partnership operating in these disadvantaged squatter settlements. Recent explosive increases in the spread of dengue, hepatitis and TB, however, necessitated special attention and activities on a scale and pace that was greater than could be accommodated as part of UHP’s core work. Thus, having an already well-established collaborative model with social accountability measures in place, a dedicated mass awareness program was initiated over the course of one year, from mid 2015: the AGAHI project.
This article describes AGAHI’s innovative, low-cost, collaborative activities conducted in partnership with two squatter communities, Sultanabad and Rehri Goth, to build health awareness, improved care-seeking and compliance to treatment. Activities ranged from school sessions, role plays and awareness walks to laneway meetings, training of health care workers, door-to-door campaigns and collaboration with local religious leaders, public sector groups and NGOs.
Building on the collaborative work of the UHP, in just 12 months AGAHI was able to conduct 80 health awareness sessions with 4000 participants. Moreover, high-risk and vulnerable populations were identified and referred for further treatment. A comparative cross-sectional survey afterwards revealed a significant increase in knowledge among Sultanabad residents as compared to the neighbouring settlement of Hijrat Colony. As a result, this article suggests that the need for and efficacy of targeted health awareness campaigns against the major infectious diseases of poverty cannot be overemphasised. By adopting community-based participatory models, couched in a framework of social accountability, activities that are low cost, innovative and scientifically robust hold real potential for improving health awareness in vulnerable megacities like Karachi.
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