Background: Malaria is the main health risk for Chinese expatriates working in Niger. Health education is a recommended intervention for prevention of malaria among non-immune travellers and expatriate workers. It is urgent to develop an effective and feasible way for these populations to obtain information about the prevention and treatment of malaria.
Methods: An individually randomized, unblinded, controlled trial was used to evaluate the effectiveness of using WeChat official accounts for health education to improve malaria health literacy among Chinese expatriates in Niger. A total 1441 participants completed a baseline malaria health literacy questionnaire and were randomly assigned to an intervention or comparison group in a ratio of 1:1. From July to October 2014, 50 malaria prevention and treatment messages were sent to the intervention group; 50 health news messages were concurrently sent to the control group. Both groups completed the malaria health literacy questionnaire again 4 months after the start of the education intervention. A questionnaire addressing satisfaction with the health education programme was completed by the intervention group. Malaria morbidity data for 2013 and 2014 were also collected.
Results: At baseline, participant health literacy rates were 58.29, 62, 54, and 34% for skills, knowledge, practice, and attitude, respectively. After the intervention, rates for all four aspects of malaria literacy were above 70%. There was greater change in knowledge, attitude, practice, skills, and overall health literacy among the intervention group compared with the controls, with a statistically significant difference (p < 0.01). This was especially true for acquisition of malaria-related knowledge, practice and attitude; comprehensive intervention practices; and, correct use of rapid diagnostic tests (p < 0.001). The reported malaria morbidity during the study period decreased from 23.72 to 15.40%. Participants reported high levels of satisfaction with the WeChat health education programme with over 80% stating that they would continue to follow the programme.
Conclusions: The present health education intervention, via a WeChat official account, for the prevention and treatment of malaria among non-immune travellers and expatriate workers proved to be an effective, sustainable, feasible, and well accepted strategy for improving malaria health literacy among Chinese expatriates in Niger.
Keywords: Chinese expatriates; Malaria health literacy; Niger; WeChat official account.