Dynamic children’s games promote dengue prevention in Guatemala

Published: 8 January 2014 16:09 CET

By Enrique Guevara, IFRC

After some hours of driving, we walked almost half an hour to carry out household visits in La Soledad community located in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango. Joined by a representative from the Health Ministry of Guatemala and a community guard, we visit families that have reported cases of dengue.

Miriam Gomez, who works selling fruits while her husband works at the nearby banana plantation, has five children. Even with two incomes, the money doesn’t always go far enough, but Miriam recently thought her husband had dengue. “He told me that all his body ached and he was shivering with cold. He had an aspirin at work but it did not had any effect,” she said. “I said he should get a blood test.”

Miriam has a newborn son and was worried he might get ill. “Where he works, the water stagnates in the stems of the banana trees so mosquitoes gather,” she said.

Fortunately it was not dengue, but a case of flu. Despite the negative result, cases such as this show the importance of public education and sensitization to reduce and mitigate dengue cases.

Last July, cases of dengue rose sharply, causing the Guatemalan Red Cross to deploy it ‘dengue prevention plan’ which involved working with authorities and communities to help eliminate potential breeding grounds and to teach more people how to avoid the disease and recognize its symptoms. Specific problems were identified in various remote communities, including a lack of running water – meaning families tended to collect water in barrels – and a reluctance to make appropriate changes.

Tania Banales, from the Centre of Convergence La Soledad Village, said that collaboration between the Red Cross, the Ministry of Health, and local communities is essential. “Before (Red Cross) came to support, it was very hard work, because we had to make the visits with support from the community guards, and they have their own lives. Red Cross support allows us to have more personnel.”

Leonardo Ramos Pastor has been a community guard in La Soledad community for 27 years. He recognizes the benefit the Red Cross offers through its education programmes. “You are providing education, which has been the hardest thing to do during all the time I have been here, to share with all the people.”

With only 10 community guards in La Soledad, the support of the Red Cross is welcome. “The last year we had nine cases of dengue,” Leonardo said. “What worries me the most is that an epidemic occurs, but together we’re doing a good job, and the Red Cross it is providing the education for dengue prevention.”

In order to support these actions, the Red Cross take the prevention message to schools in remote areas. Lisbeth Torres, principal of the Official Rural Mixed School of El Socorro Village, said the education volunteers were great at engaging with the children during dengue lessons. “It is not something tedious, that the students are only listening and they get bored (they can be a bit hyperactive!) On the contrary, the volunteers do it a more exciting way, and the students retain the information better because it is dynamic and more entertaining, and there is trust between the facilitator and the student.”

Jorge Ambrosio, Coordinator of the Dengue Action Plan in the Coatepeque branch of the Guatemalan Red Cross explains the use of the “Pregunton” game as an educational tool, “The game consists of answering the questions in the boxes to see how much knowledge the students have acquired during the learning session. This is the most fun way to learn.” Beyond this, Jorge said, the young people also take the positive messages back to their families.

After playing and having fun with the volunteers, the children walk around the school to identify possible mosquito breeding grounds, and put into practice the techniques acquired for eliminating them.