Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Health Education Efforts in Uncertain Times: Helping to Ensure Healthy Pregnancies in a Time of Crisis

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Health Education Efforts in Uncertain Times: Helping to Ensure Healthy Pregnancies in a Time of Crisis

Article excerpt


Hurricane Katrina caused immense upheaval and disrupted many lives. Among those affected were pregnant women. A public service announcement, website content, and a fact sheet were developed to inform pregnant women about the issues that could potentially affect their health and that of their babies. The aim of these products was to provide health messages that captured the attention of the intended audience amid the challenging environment of an emergency situation. Message dissemination methods--television, radio, and websites--were carefully selected, because using a combination of outlets is often helpful in reaching the widest audience possible.


The 2005 hurricane season was one of the most active in recorded history. Among the most devastating storms to hit the United States was Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005. Katrina caused immense devastation to natural resources, land, homes, and lives, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of individuals to new states or evacuation centers. (1,2) Among those displaced were pregnant women. Pregnant women need special consideration in such situations because the effects of a disaster and resulting displacement can put these women at increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes. Factors such as limited access to clean water, interrupted access to medications, increased risk for infections related to crowded emergency facilities, disruption of prenatal care, and increased stress related to an uncertain future need to be considered when caring for displaced pregnant women. Although these factors can affect all groups, pregnant women at risk also carry developing babies that are at risk.

In the aftermath of Katrina, many Gulf Coast clinics, hospitals, and private physicians' offices were closed or understaffed and, therefore, not accessible to their patients. Public health officials and response teams were dispatched to help provide much needed health care to those temporarily residing in evacuation shelters that had been set up in various cities throughout the nation. (3) These professionals often had to address a myriad of health issues with limited resources and the added strain caused by a disaster response situation. Finding the most effective and efficient ways to provide important health information to individuals in a crisis situation such as Katrina can be very challenging. Reaching special populations--who might have unique needs and require more tailored health messages during an emergency situation--can add to the difficulty.

Pregnant women in particular need specific information related to their condition. During an emergency situation, however, they might not have access to traditional health care services or information channels. Written materials such as fact sheets, print advertisements, and posters can be used to disseminate health information. Using a combination of materials that will work best in emergency situations is usually optimal, though, particularly when dealing with an audience of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Creating health information that will be easily understood by an audience such as pregnant women, and making use of outlets through which this information is most accessible, can help to ensure that a health message achieves its broadest reach.


Understanding Health Messages

Health information often includes technical jargon and concepts that are hard to understand, regardless of one's level of education or literacy; however, reading, understanding, and using health information can be even more daunting for those with limited literacy skills. Findings from the National Adult Literacy Survey indicate that almost half of the U.S. adult population has limited literacy skills, and one-quarter is functionally illiterate. (4) Additionally, factors that often accompany an emergency situation such as stress, fear, and confusion can exacerbate people's existing struggle to read, understand, and use information. …

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