NESTLING among the office blocks of central Delhi can be found a true mix of communities, from slum dwellers to middle income households, and this was the area chosen recently for an interesting experiment in promoting rational drug use. University students and NGOs joined with the Delhi Society for Promotion of Rational Use of Drugs to celebrate “Health” Month in August 2001 - designated the Year of Women’s Empowerment - by performing street theatre to convey key messages on medicines use.
Before the performances, a survey of 100 households in central Delhi set out to discover what women in the locality knew about using drugs correctly. Results showed that 50% of women administered prescription drugs without prescription, 19% were unaware of expiry dates and only 50% knew of oral rehydration solution to treat diarrhoea. Consulting neighbours or unlicensed “doctors” or resorting to self-medication of prescription-type drugs for serious health problems were common practices. Spurred on by the survey results, the Delhi Society for Promotion of Rational Use of Drugs collaborated with Delhi University’s Women’s Studies and Development Centre to design a series of street play performances to be given at nine locations in the city.
Laughter and tears
The production teams responded with great creative enthusiasm. For example Indraprathsa College produced a series of stark and powerful vignettes, exposing the links between drug dealers and unethical (unscrupulous?) doctors. Gargi College used comic satire by having “Santo Tai”, a traditional matronly figure, as the central character. Delving into her bag of “home remedies” she innocently and foolishly causes sickness and harm, never admitting that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. The NGO group Mohak adopted a sombre note in showing the death of a child because of “A Small Mistake”, as the play was called, depicting the tragedy brought to a family by wrongly prescribed and wrongly bought medicines.
A dramatic moment in one of the street theatre performances
So what impact did this innovative approach have? In the poorest area, where the original survey took place, 500 people came to watch the play. Each performance, whether in educational institutions, in communities or gardens, drew its own range of audience. The teachers overseeing the Women’s Development Centres carefully wove rational drug use messages into the plots. The college students who wrote the scripts and directed the productions said that they too were now more aware of the correct use of antibiotics.
For further information contact: Delhi Society for Promotion of Rational Use of Drugs, National Institute of Immunology, Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, New Delhi - 110 067, India. Fax: 9111 616 2125, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org