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Science Cafe Sessions Continue – bringing more scientific health information to our community!

AHC’s Science Cafes aims to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and ordinary community members, and provide access to child health information – all within a relaxed and informal setting. This activity is a jointly implemented activity of AHC and the Cambodia Oxford Medical Research Unit (COMRU). At its core, this supports AHC’s effort to fulfil every parent’s right to access to preventative healthcare knowledge regardless age, gender, education or income.

Science Cafés occur around the world. They are designed to foster engagement between experts in their field and interested parties. Typically it is aimed at the science community, hence the name. At AHC, however, our community is primarily children and their caregivers – who often are poor, illiterate and uneducated.

“We wanted to use a mechanism like this to reach beneficiaries but we wanted to adapt it to meet the very specific needs of our target audience.” Claudia Turner, Chief Executive Officer at AHC, says.

The aim of the AHC Science Café is to improve access to quality care for all. The Science Café format gives participants access health care information but, more importantly, is designed to build their confidence in questioning and participating in their child’s healthcare at the hospital – something that not all of our caregivers may realise they have the right to do.

AHC Science Cafes are held every two months and are funded by Wellcome Trust through COMRU, which partners with AHC. The events takes place in a casual setting and are open to everyone. Pol Sreymom, a research assistant at COMRU who organises the cafes says,

“Our priority is to make people feel comfortable enough to speak up with their questions – we chose to hold them in a cafe or a AHC classroom and cater for the event so they can enjoy a snack and drink during our discussion.”

Thus far AHC has held three sessions:

  • August 2016 – Child cancer, led by Dr. Promvireak, IPD Department
  • October 2016 – Pneumonia, led by Dr. Vorleak, ICU/ER Department
  • December 2016 – Antibiotic use, led by Dr. Thyl, AHC Microbiology Laboratory

Organisers advertise around the hospital and community in the week leading up to each science café. On the day they work with clinical staff to arrange for child care services, freeing up interested caregivers to join the session. Science Cafes typically happen in the mid-afternoon, a time when caregivers to our patients have the least responsibilities.

One of AHC’s doctors usually lead each session – beginning with a short illustration-based interactive discussion on a healthcare topic, followed by informal interaction and engagement with participants. All of the materials are designed for a non-literate audience, increasing access for parents from all educational backgrounds. Often, the doctors find that the participants initially are reluctant to engage at first, so they take the opportunity to mingle with caregivers and talk to them on a one-to-one basis on child health.

The aim is to build the confidence of participants in communicating on sometimes very technical areas. As such, doctors listen closely to the audience and find that sometimes they have to explain issues several times. Likewise, they often find that as confidence grows amongst the audience, the discussion evolves to other health topics – as the caregivers gain the confidence to inquire about their own children’s cases, for example.

Our doctors were asked to think about strategies for engaging with the audience and how to create a meaningful environmental for learning. Dr Thyl reflects on the session he led in December;

“I wanted the session to be led by my audience. I asked them to reflect on their habits and used this to guide the discussion. My aim was to get the audience to think about how and why they use medicine – and why this is important.”

In general, our doctors have been pleasantly surprised about the enthusiasm and participation of the audience as well as their ability to understand the medical concepts when the information is presented in an accessible way.

“It gave me an opportunity to better understand how my patients understand medical knowledge that they have access to”, says Dr. Thyl.

AHC is also keen to hear back from the caregivers about this event. At the end of each session they conduct a short evaluation with participants. Thus far this has indicated that caregivers enjoy the sessions – finding the format empowering and that, as a result, their knowledge has improved. Sreymoa, 33, from Battambang, whose son was receiving treatment at AHC when she attended the Science Café, told the organisers that she was surprised at how much of the discussion she understood – for her, the informal setting was very successful in providing her with the confidence to speak up and ask questions. Many participants asked that the Science Café happens more frequently and on more topics.

It has also been a learning experience for AHC.

“As far as we are aware this is not happening anywhere else at this level – in fact we initially were very unsure if it would work.” Claudia Turner, CEO of AHC commented.

Not only has it been a huge success, but it has been instrumental in identifying key discussions about rights and access to quality care in a low resource setting. AHC and COMRU are documenting the successes of this activity and hope to share our experiences around the world, supporting improved quality care in similarly resourced settings.

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