Students debate the benefits of health care

Under the second phase of the Health Pooled Fund (HPF2), implementing partners (IPs) allocate funds to integrate healthcare with education through an emphasis on school health activities and health promotion. Student health clubs are one low cost way to integrate health care into schools and are already being supported by HPF IPs and county health departments (CHDs) in some counties.

School health clubs promote good health practices and encourage children to deliver health messages to their communities. One county where this is already happening is Kapoeta South, where the CHD supported by HPF through American Refugee Committee (ARC), initiated a twice weekly health club for students at Grace Christian Senior School.

Headmaster, Lolinga Mathew Tartiisio, is supportive of initiatives which tie education and health more closely together. “We started the health club because we see the importance of a school being an agent of health in terms of mobilising the community,” he said. “Serious parents will ask their children what they are learning at school and the students will pass on the health messages they have received.”

At Grace Christian, signs bearing health messages are placed around the school grounds and regular health talks are given to all students during school assemblies on topics such as cholera awareness, nutrition or good hygiene practices.

Membership of the school health club is voluntary but all students are encouraged to participate. They meet twice a week to discuss health topics that they choose as a group and occasionally organise debates which are watched by all the students. The most recent debate was ‘Delivering in the community is better than delivering in the hospital.’

The school health club is both informative and fun according to one student, Fred. “It’s really enjoyable to belong to the club,” he said. “We talk about taking care of your body and protecting yourself from disease. We conducted a drama about HIV prevention. Some people acted out being infected and sick. Others acted out being patients taking drugs [ARVs] to cure them; they were much healthier.”

Club coordinator and teacher, Augustin, said the aim is to create “health agents” who are charged with passing potentially lifesaving information to their friends, family and community to motivate them to attend the facilities.

Once per month health club members participate side-by-side in community health promotion activities with a CHD/IP team which gives the students an opportunity to develop their communication skills while contributing to raising awareness of important health issues.

“When there is need for mobilisation and sensitisation campaigns the CHD pick students from here to help them, like in the recent polio vaccination campaign,” Augustin said. “One weekend we taught the community how to build latrines and the importance of not practising open defecation. Another time the students went to the hospital to clean the compound. It helps build the sense of community ownership.”

“We have learnt a lot about de-worming, how to take care of yourself when you are sick, how to keep away from diseases like cholera,” Philip, a student said. “We went to the community afterwards. I talked to them about how to keep themselves safe from diseases. They had many questions.”

All students, even those who are not members of the club, participate in sports like volleyball and football using equipment donated by the CHD to promote good physical health. They also clean the grounds using tools provided by the CHD to promote the importance of maintaining a clean and sanitary environment.

Several of the students said being in the club had inspired them to study health sciences when they graduate from school. One club member, Manuela would like to study nursing to help others in her community. Natalina, another club member, said, “I’d like to train to be a lab technician to help people in our community because the health facilities in the village need lab technicians to diagnose diseases.”

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