April 7 was World Health Day and we have spent the week focusing on the crucial links between health and education. When health is at risk, so is learning. Poor health is a barrier to access and participation in school. In fact, in developing countries, an estimated 500 million school days are lost due to illness each year.
A new report by Disease Control Priorities, the World Bank, and GPE shows that schools are the perfect setting for tackling the health needs of children across all grades, leading to better and more equitable learning.
GPE is working with 52 partner developing countries to design and integrate school health interventions into education sector plans and is directly funding health activities in 22 countries.
Below are 3 examples of successful school health programs, taken from a new factsheet on health and education.
In Cambodia, a 2010 survey showed that in rural areas, no children with visual impairment had glasses and 80% of visual impairment was due to uncorrected refractive error, a condition easily corrected by eyeglasses.
This resulted in absenteeism from school, increased dropout rates, reduced ability to learn, and eventually poor job prospects.
The Cambodian Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Planning, with support from GPE and other partners, developed a program to screen more than 13,000 children aged 11-15 years in 56 schools. Corrective lenses were provided for children found to have refractive error.
Now these children can fully participate in the classroom and the program is being scaled up to benefit even more children.
GPE and partners helped build the capacity of the Ministry of Education in Ethiopia to design a comprehensive 5-year school health and nutrition strategy and action plan to improve children’s education in the country.
Teachers have been trained to deliver simple and effective health activities in schools, including deworming, vision screening and infectious disease prevention education.
These activities will help ensure no child is left out of school because of poor health and improve learning.
Over 132,000 Haitian primary students receive a morning snack and hot lunch at school every day thanks to the Ministry of Education’s Health and Nutrition Program, funded by GPE and other development partners.
The meals constitute 60% of the students’ nutrition needs, and play a big part in making sure children continue to come to school. The program has led to increases in enrollments. The children are also given deworming medicine and Vitamin A as part of the program.
Can you imagine having to concentrate and learn on an empty stomach? In the words of one of the students, “Before the canteen opened, we would come to school and leave without having eaten. Now, we get food at school and feel good.”
In focus: School health
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- School-based health programs: money well spent
- Strengthening inclusive school health and nutrition: 3 recommendations from Asia