Launch of national school health policy and the national education sector HIV/AIDS strategic plan
Abuja, 13 November 2007 - The Federal Government today launched two important policy documents, related to the integration of health into the education system: the National School Health Policy and the National Education Sector HIV/AIDS Strategic Plan. These new policies developed by the Federal Ministry of Education, with UNICEF support, are designed to put in place a national framework for the formulation, co-ordination, implementation and effective monitoring and evaluation of School Health Programme (SHP), including an elaborate and concrete response to the HIV-AIDS scourge.
Schools can provide many benefits to children and adolescents in addition to formal education. These include: healthy and safe environments - often combining good nutrition with clean water and sanitation; health education and life skills training; sports and recreational facilities; monitoring the growth, health and development of the child, basic health interventions and counseling. With an increasing enrolment level, the potential of the school to reach a large proportion of children with adequate health education and services is particularly high.
“Health and education are equally important for the development of a child. A child that is sick cannot fully profit from the teaching and he is likely to miss school. On the opposite, a healthy child will make the most of his classes”, said Robert Limlim, UNICEF Deputy Representative. “This is why it is so crucial that health problems can be dealt with at school level and that a true synergy is created to promote health at all levels: school, community and family’”
The launch of these documents comes against the back drop of poor health status of school pupils and the impact of HIV/AIDS on the school system. A national study of the School Health System in Nigeria by Federal Ministries of Health and Education indicate that while 30% of students have low Body Mass Index (BMI), the common health conditions of students which contribute to absenteeism are fever / typhoid (56%), headache (43%), stomach ache (29%), cough / catarrh (38%) and malaria (40%).
An HIV/AIDS focused School Health Baseline Survey show a low risk perception among school pupils towards contracting the HIV virus, a high tendency for to discriminate and stigmatise HIV positive persons and some level of misconception about the mode of transmission of the HIV virus. For instance 26% of respondents thought that mosquitoes could transmit the virus.
The National Education Sector Strategic Plan on HIV-AIDS is an integral part of the School Health policy. Drawing from the baseline survey, the Plan seeks to increase the proportion of teachers and pupils who have correct knowledge of HIV and AIDS knowledge, as well as appropriate attitude, behaviour and life skills to protect themselves from HIV.
“Education is the only effective preventive vaccine against HIV/AIDS because it informs, empowers and builds skills”, said the Honourable Minister of Education, Dr. Aja-Nwachukwu.
Together with the two policies, the Federal Ministry of Education also launched the National Guidelines for School Meal Planning with the objective to reduce malnutrition and hunger among school children, particularly among those living in poor rural communities, through the provision of at least one adequate meal a day. The National Guidelines for School Meal Planning provide clear directions for planning and implementing school feeding programmes, which could be undertaken by Education authorities, Parents-Teachers Association or School Based Management Committees. Such programmes would impact positively on school enrolment, attendance and retention rates.
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