Health-Promoting Schools Initiative in the Americas. (Health Education)

By Ippolito-Shepherd, Josefa | UN Chronicle, June-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Health-Promoting Schools Initiative in the Americas. (Health Education)


Ippolito-Shepherd, Josefa, UN Chronicle


Health promotion and health education in schools is a pressing priority, and ensuring the right to health and education for all children is a responsibility shared by all. It is an investment that each society should make in order to generate and augment the creative and productive capacity of all young people and a sustainable social, healthy and peaceful human future.

Until the early 1990s, school health programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean were characterized by efforts directed at improving conditions of hygiene and environmental sanitation, preventing communicable diseases, treating specific diseases and performing periodic medical examinations or screening tests. These multiple interventions often lacked operational strategies to facilitate the integration of the various related components within a conceptual framework that would make it possible to achieve the objectives common to the health and education sectors.

This past decade, considerable progress has been made on the formulation and implementation of integrated school health programmes in almost all countries of the region. In the midst of new relationships and government services, a new vision of public health has evolved, as well as regional initiatives directed to improve school health programmes. At the same time, the role of the educational communities in improving the health conditions, wellbeing and comprehensive development of children and adolescents has acquired significant recognition and support.

The Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office of the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), launched the Health-Promoting Schools (HPSs) Regional Initiative in 1995 to strengthen health promotion and education, where children, parents, teachers and other members of the school community live, learn, work and play. Through technical cooperation with and among member countries, the Initiative aims to: build consensus between the health and education sectors; establish relevant partnerships to create, maintain and/or enhance healthy and supportive physical and psychosocial environments; and facilitate the learning of life skills for the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles by school children and adolescents and those close to them.

The Initiative provides a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach where children, in the context of their daily life within their family, community and society, are the central actors. The major focus is on the acquisition of knowledge and skills that facilitate self-reliance for individual, as well as for collective health-seeking behaviour, including preventing the adoption of risk behaviour and the maintenance of protective lifestyles. critical reflexive analysis of values, attitudes, behaviours, social conditions and lifestyles is encouraged. This strengthens those who favour health and human development, facilitates the participation of all members of the educational community, contributes to promoting socially egalitarian relations among genders, encourages the construction of citizenship and democracy, and strengthens traditions of solidarity, community spirit and human rights.

The Initiative addresses three main components: (2)

The first is comprehensive school health and life-skills education, which is directed toward the acquisition of knowledge, as well as toward the adoption and maintenance of abilities and skills that facilitate the achievement of an optimum level of health and quality of life. It takes into account the particular needs of students in each stage of their development, in accord with their individual social, cultural and gender characteristics, and is based on positive values known to strengthen their personal, family and community life skills and abilities.

The second component is healthy and supportive environments and surroundings, directed towards facilitating the development and strengthening of the capacity of the school to create and maintain environments and surroundings that are supportive for health and learning. …

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