In many developing countries, particularly in Africa, public education activities are often difficult to get off the ground due to lack of trained personnel with experience in planning, formative research and materials development. The potential impact of some projects, undertaken by committed public and professional bodies, NGOs and community groups, is compromised by lack of basic skills and knowledge in communication principles and materials development. Even where project staff are highly qualified in health related fields, lack of communications training and experience may make them loath to embark on public educational programmes, or inadequate in related planning and implementation. This can result in projects with unrealistic approaches and targets.
Opportunities for short-term training and access to simple, practical tools are needed to facilitate programme formative research and development, particularly for small scale, community-based programmes. These would help to develop a critical mass of professionals and community leaders with skills in developing and implementing community education programmes. In DAP's experience there is great demand for such training and tools. At present no such courses exist in the area of public education in rational drug use, although such short courses have been developed in the field of family health and child survival, mainly in departments of communication in American and European (UK, Belgium) universities.
Manuals are available on how to develop general health communication programmes, or family planning and child survival strategies. However, experience shows that it is often difficult for programme planners and implementers to adapt these easily to the area of drug education, particularly for small scale activities operating on a limited budget. The availability of tools and courses dedicated to work in this area could powerfully influence a more structured approach to public education.
Organizations or people who intend to carry out public education projects need clear usable guidelines to help them better plan and structure their activities, including better definitions of the theme(s), the desired outcomes of the project, and the target audience. Setting priorities is difficult and the choice of the above elements must be based on solid research. Project planners need tools to help them conduct feasible, effective research related to the perceptions and use of drugs, and to the most appropriate channels of communication and public education. Project planners and implementers need clear, simple and effective methodologies for pretesting, and for making decisions based on the results of the testing. They also need simple methodologies to evaluate the impact of interventions of public education on RUD.
International development organizations, NGOs and academic institutions should collaborate to develop an international training course at which present and potential implementers of public education programmes could strengthen communication skills, and in turn transfer skills to national colleagues through local training programmes. The INRUD/DAP workshops on rational drug use (which currently contain a very small public education component), the DAP sponsored training course in drug management at Aberdeen, and the Guide to Good Prescribing training programme are good examples of this approach, which also contributes strongly to effective networking.