A World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) research due to be released next month, has recognised schools as ‘engines’ of health promotion with an important role to play in influencing the health and well-being of children and adolescents.

Education is often referred to as a ‘social vaccine’ for a range of health conditions, according to the report, and consensus is growing that child health should be included in its core mission.

The full report titled, Building Healthy Societies: A Framework For Integrating Health and Health Promotion Into Education, will be released and discussed in depth at WISH 2020. The fifth biennial conference will be held virtually on 15 – 19 November and will focus on 10 research themes including ‘The Role of Schools in Child Health’.

Health Promotion Activities in Education 

The report makes the case for integrating health and health promotion activities in education systems. With children spending many of their waking hours in classrooms, the prolonged contact gives schools a unique opportunity and responsibility to educate, but also prepare children to be productive members of society – far-reaching benefits beyond gains in health.

Professor Russell Viner
Professor Russell Viner

The school environment offers several opportunities for action. Crucially, identifying conditions such as autism, diabetes, obesity, and mental illness can trigger targeted early interventions. Worldwide – especially in low-income countries – schools are often platforms to deliver health interventions that range from school nutrition to deworming, with direct and lasting health benefits.

The expert research group tackling this subject at WISH 2020 is chaired by a pioneer in adolescent health, Professor Russell Viner, who has led the development of adolescent health clinical approaches in the UK. As one of the founders of the Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health, his work identified the expansion of secondary education as key global lever to improve young people’s health.

Referring to the global school closures in response to COVID-19, Professor Viner, said they have over a billion children and young people out of schools globally.

This is the largest cessation of education due to closure of schools that has ever happened, and potentially for the longest period. What it has done is to highlight the links between education and health in the most extraordinary ways.

He said that in the first sense, schools are used as a health intervention, and closing schools as part of the control of this pandemic. But secondly, he said that we can also see the collateral damage that this pandemic is doing to the health of children and young people.

It reveals the role that the education system has in health and these inextricable links between the two of them.

The report discusses the worrisome effects of school closures that may include anxiety, depression, and mental health stress, cutting off access to school-provided nutrition and other health services and increasing the threat of maltreatment and unprotected exposure to the digital environment, noting that debate is ongoing on the best path to reopening schools.

The recommendations of the report are far-reaching and call for collaboration in bridging the gap between the health and education sectors and the creation of a ‘common language’ framework to enable understanding across different policy domains.

‘The Role of Schools in Child Health’ forum at WISH 2020 will be an important opportunity to consider case studies from around the world and identify comprehensive ways to take advantage of the ‘social vaccine’ that schools can provide.

WISH 2020 will have a uniquely interactive format under the theme ‘One World Our Health’, to emphasise the vision to create a healthier world through global collaboration.

WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative. To register to attend the virtual WISH 2020 for free, go to wish.org.qa

Check out Marhaba’s FREE Education e-Guide for information about schools and education in Qatar.