On the occasion of World Health Day (7 April 2021), Aide et Action looks back on the essential contribution of the education sector to the promotion of better health and well-being for all and calls for bringing together both education and health efforts in the context of development projects, particularly those carried out in a crisis situation.
Providing children with breakfast as soon as they arrive at school in the morning is a common practice in educational projects carried out by Aide et Action in many developing countries. Not only does it guarantee the youngest ones a meal a day, but it also allows an initial awareness of good nutrition rules; it avoids the risks of malnutrition and allows children to concentrate more to attend school lessons. The practice is also being emulated today since France has announced that it wants to introduce this measure in multiple schools for the most fragile families. There is no coincidence in that! How do you learn, work and study on an empty stomach, when you are malnourished or sick? Impossible! And indeed, there has been proof that ensuring essential health needs is imperative before any effective and efficient educational action can be considered.
To be healthy to learn well and to learn to be healthy!
But the cause-and-effect relationship between education and health does not end there. Going to school means learning the knowledge necessary for good nutrition, knowing how to prevent illnesses, and recognize certain pathologies. Research proves that a child whose mother can read is twice as likely to live beyond the age of five; 50% more likely to be vaccinated and is twice as likely to be educated.
Over the years of study, we, therefore, know how to eat better, what behavior to adopt so as not to fall ill, when to be treated, what medications to take, and above all how to take them since we know how to read and understand the dosages. Educated parents are thus better able to take care of their families and pass on the right methods to their children. Studies show that women who have studied beyond primary school are five times more likely to have knowledge of HIV and AIDS. In this sense, education acts as a health intermediary and is a real development factor since it provides the citizens of tomorrow with the knowledge and attitudes to lead a healthy life. This is particularly important in times of crisis, as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has shown.
Education and health: coordinated action is needed in times of crisis
The educational disruption caused by the sudden closure of schools following the COVID-19 pandemic has had a brutal impact on children and young people. They not only lost access to knowledge overnight, but they also lost the only hot meal they had per day, access to medical check-ups, nutritional monitoring, vaccination programs … From the beginnings of the crisis, NGOs specializing in education therefore immediately understood the importance of restoring access to health and nutrition services for all before considering any educational activity.
As part of its response to COVID-19, Aide et Action has adopted an integrated and multisectoral approach, acting simultaneously on all the needs of populations in order to ultimately guarantee educational continuity. In Vietnam, we have developed actions in the area of water, sanitation, and hygiene, as they seemed essential and necessary, for obvious health reasons, to ensure that populations can access an awareness-raising program about the danger of the virus and the importance of barrier gestures, fixed and mobile hand washing facilities, soap or alcohol-based cleaning products and a reliable water supply. It has also more widely provided, in Cambodia for example, comprehensive support in terms of food aid, nutritional monitoring, support for the resumption of primary health care.
Our coordinated action in South Asia in the face of COVID-19
In India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Aide et Action worked to restore access to essential services as quickly as possible by raising awareness among populations on barrier gestures and social distancing measures, by distributing health and nutritional kits, and menstrual hygiene supplies … The project also included an important psycho-social protection component geared towards the most vulnerable ones. Psychological support provided mainly by telephone to more than 6,518 people helped people in trauma situations and prevented many suicide attempts.
The results of the project in India have proved the importance and effectiveness of this intersectoral approach: 380,000 people have been made aware of barrier gestures, 6,615 people have received psychosocial support, more than 197,943 people in internal migration have received food, and 96,647 people hygiene kits. In many vocational training centers and schools supported by Aide et Action, access to care and nutrition has made it possible to prevent dropping out of school and to guarantee the resumption of educational activity for the most vulnerable populations, especially girls. Such results demonstrate how the links between education and health need to be strengthened today.
The recent COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated all the benefits of a complementary education-health approach and the need for coordinated action from all sectors to guarantee access of populations to the most essential rights.