Primary healthcare measures, such as immunisation, are essential components of community health, but often overall health only improves when the community understands the causes of illness, knows how to avoid them and is open to changing behaviours.
Knowledge about the advantages of breastfeeding and the need for vitamin-rich foods are two examples of how awareness campaigns can have a significant impact on overall health.
In the remote, high-mountain communities of the Alai and Chon Alai districts of the Kyrgyz Republic, an AKDN programme complements primary health measures, such as immunisations, with an awareness-raising programme that targets more than 90,000 people in the two poorest districts in Osh Oblast.
In response to vitamin deficiencies, one project promoted kitchen gardens, with a focus on tomatoes and carrots. At high altitudes, these vegetables were hard to grow, but with support from AKDN and its partners, 160 kitchen gardens were established in over 20 villages. Canning techniques taught by Aga Khan Foundation staff showed local people how to preserve vegetables for the winter months.
Another example concerns the widespread use of breast-milk substitutes. When AKDN began working in these villages, most women did not link breastfeeding to the nutrition status, growth and development, improved health and survival of their children. Today, awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding (giving newborns no other food or drink, or even water, besides breast milk, for the first six months) has reached 90 percent. The practice has led to dramatic reductions in the number of infant deaths in developing countries.
"I have come to know the Central Asian peoples and their dreams and aspirations. I know of their proud entrepreneurial spirit - often manifested at the village and household level. It is critical - even as we plan for development at the 'macro' level - that we also build at the 'micro' level." His Highness the Aga Khan at the conference on Central Asia and Europe: a new economic partnership for the 21st century, Berlin, Germany - 13 November 2007