SEAMEO INNOTECH is conducting the first international course for effective school health from April 4 to 12, in partnership with Fit for School and World Medical Association. Conceptualized and funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), the course involves representatives from the health and education sectors of Southeast Asia.

The course follows the program framework of Fit for School, an NGO supporting the school health and nutrition program of the Philippine Department of Education. The framework focuses on daily skills-based activities and involves non-health professionals, including school principals, teachers, and parents.

The Fit for School program responds to several publich health challenges. In the Philippines, the list is topped by dental decay and infections (97 percent of school children have caries), intestinal worms (66 percent affected), and below-normal body mass index (30 percent malnourished). Diarrhea and respiratory tract infections are also widespread.

Promoting preventive health practices to fight these major health issues, Fit for School implements what it calls the Essential Health Care Program that has three main components: daily handwashing with soap, daily toothbrushing with fluoride toothpaste, and bi-annual deworming. These activities were selected on the basis of strong research evidence for their effectiveness.

Current implementation in the Philippines reaches 1.5 million school children in 4,000 schools across 30 provinces. Impact monitoring at the end of the first year of the program showed improved nutritional status and reduced incidence of dental caries. Whether this translates to improved educational outcomes remains the subject of longer-term measurement.

The ongoing course aims to replicate this experience in Indonesia, Cambodia and other sites in the Philippines. Designed to support existing school health programs and structures and not as a stand-alone mechanism, Fit for School hopes to avoid resistance from school personnel saddled with multiple roles by involving them in implementation while getting the local government units to provide for the resources and the community to build water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

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