On 1 July, the Culture and Bodies team and community members joined together for a public event in Lilongwe, Malawi. Participants chose posters, poetry and drama to raise awareness of the dangers of hypertension – a growing problem in the country.
Social scientist Otiyela (Oti) Mtema, who is responsible for the day to day running of the Culture and Bodies project in Malawi, shares his experience of how the day went…
“We held our event at Mjoa Market after our participants identified the market as the best place because of its size and the number of people who go there.
“To advertise the event, a week beforehand we put up posters the participants had created and we used a truck with a PA system on the day, inviting marketgoers to come along.”
Spreading awareness of hypertension risks
Before the public event took place, Culture and Bodies researchers worked with community members to identify ways of spreading awareness about the risk factors for hypertension and how people could improve their lifestyle to reduce their own risk of getting hypertension.
The fifteen participants were divided into three groups—one chose poetry, the other drama and the third posters.
Reducing salt intake
One poster urged people to reduce the amount of salt they used in cooking. Another highlighted a ‘sprinkle, don’t dip’ message when eating from local take-aways as it is common for people to put too much salt on chips and other fried food. The third poster asked people not to put salt on the table at home.
Oti added: “The drama encompassed many of the anti-hypertension measures, such as reducing your salt intake and the amount of alcohol you drink, as well as making sure you get your blood pressure tested.
“The play focussed on a man who was drinking too much, while his wife told him he should be careful because she’d heard that alcoholic intake could affect blood pressure levels. He was reluctant to do anything about it, but then he collapsed one day and needed to go to the hospital.
“At the hospital, tests showed his blood pressure was high putting him at risk of developing hypertension. The doctor then gave the man and his wife advice about ways he could reduce his blood pressure, such as reducing how much salt he consumed and how much alcohol he drank.”
Know your numbers
The poem, which participants performed ‘live’ at the event, included stanzas about screening for hypertension and what happens if you don’t get tested (and have high blood pressure).
Some 300 people attended the event, coming and going throughout the afternoon. The performance was repeated and question and answer sessions took place to let attendees find out more about hypertension, the risk factors and how they could prevent it.
To add to the fun, the Culture and Bodies team handed out specially designed T-shirts and caps with the message ‘Know your Numbers’ (encouraging people to go and get their blood pressure tested), and held a dance off for participants with the crowd voting for their favourites – to get home the message that physical activity is good for you and can be fun.
What surprised Oti was the number of people willing to join in. People freestyled poetry and joined in the dances.
What was the feedback?
Oti said: “We asked those who came along, ‘What did you learn?’ and they told us they’d take onboard the salt reduction message, and that the whole event had been relevant to everyone who came along. A lot of people said they wanted to share what they had learned with others.
“Plenty of people asked us if we would be able to do similar workshops and events in their areas—especially in places that are more rural and out of the way.”
“Now we have all the data from the pilot project, we’ll be reviewing it, working out what went well and what we can improve on, writing up papers and putting forward everything we find. We have planned to scale the project up if we can find the funding to try out the Culture and Bodies model in bigger sites.”
Pic of salt and chips thanks to Pixnio.