Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Establishing Networks for Health Promoting Schools in South Africa

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Establishing Networks for Health Promoting Schools in South Africa

Article excerpt

The concept of the health promoting school (HPS) is international in its development.[1-4] Many countries around the world are working on programs that support schools and their communities to engage in improved health actions. It also complements the World Health Organization's School Health Initiative[5] which provides an impetus for mobilizing and strengthening school health promotion and education at local, national, regional, and global levels. The HPS model, based on the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion,[6] refers to those strategies -- educational, political, economic, environmental, and medical -- designed to reduce disease and promote health in schools. The goal of health promoting schools is to improve the health status of children and to improve the development of quality education.

Since the end of the apartheid era and the beginning of democratic government in South Africa in 1994, an increasing process of change has occurred in all sectors of government. The change process was directed by a policy framework outlined in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP)[7] of the African National Congress, the majority party in government. These changes led to government departments, nongovernment organizations, and professional associations questioning their role and function, and to change their policies and practices.

Until recently, the traditional model of school health was practiced in most schools. Some elements of the model include screening for visual and auditory impairments, growth monitoring, assessment of nutritional conditions, health education, and follow-up from health examinations. School health services and health education practitioners experience many hurdles reflecting inequities of years of discriminatory practices such as the previous provision of services along racially segregated lines, disproportionate personnel-to-student ratios, financial constraints, and inadequate training of staff.[8] Consequently, issues such as health in schools did not enjoy the high priority it deserved.

Various reports from international agencies, government, and nongovernment bodies highlighted the need to address child and adolescent health.[9-12] In addition, the growing population of young people in South Africa[13,14] experience unacceptable levels of mortality, morbidity, and risk-taking behaviors. The consequences of these behaviors are preventable.[15] Many of these problems persist into adulthood and cause a significant burden of illness on the community[11] which translate into a range of chronic diseases of lifestyle that contribute to a significant economic cost for government through increased expenditure on health care. Issues that need addressing in schools might be called prerequisites for health such as adequate nutrition, water and sanitation, healthy early childhood development, child protection and social welfare,[16] as well as behaviors such as smoking,[17] alcohol use,[18] drug use,[19] road-related behavior,[20] violent behavior,[21] and sexual behavior.[22]


Previously, South African schools were classified as a "Coloured," "White," "Indian," and "Black." These racial divisions were used to provide unequal resources to schools. Consequently, effects of "Apartheid Education" continue to persist until today in historically disadvantaged communities.

Development of HPSN represents one way to encourage greater intersectoral cooperation. In a survey of health and educational professionals, information on the following areas was elicited: support for HPSN, functions of HPSN, structure and administration of HPSN, perceived barriers and strategies to overcome barriers to establishing HPSNs. Responses were important to gauge the level of support for a proposal to establish networks of sectors and agencies which would coordinate, promote, and maintain the HPS ideal nationally, at provincial level and at local level. …

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