Health promoting schools: initiatives in Africa
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Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to describe the rationale for and potential of World Health Organization (WHO) health promoting schools (HPS) in Africa. Design/methodology/approach - Overview of the related literature and presentations at the 2011 Stellenbosch international colloquium on HPS relating to sub-Saharan Africa. Findings - Schools provide the most efficient and effective way to reach large portions of the population; however, no literature reporting evaluations of HPS from Africa existed ten years ago. The WHO now supports HPS strategies in over 32 African countries, recognizing that the burden of disease, disability and premature death is disproportionately high in the region, and that many of the causes are preventable. Novel applications of the WHO model are increasing; those applicable to Africa include: measures to address the widespread problem of poor oral health, hygiene and nutrition among children; a range of "entry point" activities to initiate HPS with validated evaluation methodology; initiatives centered on gardening relevant for sub-Saharan Africa; opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning opportunities generated by inter-sectoral collaborative HPS programs; and the use of social media and cell phone messaging to deliver health promotion to at-risk teen populations on the continent. Challenges include the need for multi-sectoral collaboration and Ministry leadership, paucity of human resources and stable funding and limited research and evaluation of best practices. Practical implications - Africa faces significant challenges educating the next generation in the context of health. Strong political action, broad participation and sustained advocacy are required to capitalize on the proven potential of novel initiatives now available to disseminate "knowledge" and "healthy practices" through the WHO HPS model. Originality/value - Use of HPS offers a flexible and inexpensive avenue of relevance where guidelines and process exist, and evidence of efficacy in Africa is accumulating.