By Tatenda Chimbwanda
Harare, Zimbabwe – The World Health Organization (WHO) recently conducted a five-day national coordination team training in Harare, Zimbabwe, to address the growing burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the country and across the continent.
The training focused on equipping representatives from Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe with the necessary skills to coordinate and implement the Global School-based Student Health Survey (GSHS) and Global School Health Policies and Practices Survey (G-SHPPS) in their respective countries.
The aim of the workshop was to enhance NCDs surveillance related to young people’s health behaviour in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and promote the health and well-being of adolescents.
The training, which was timely and relevant, provided comprehensive coverage of various topics, such as survey methodology, data management, data analysis, and reporting. Additionally, participants were given the opportunity to share their experiences and best practices from their respective countries.
As a result of the training, it is expected that the countries will be well-equipped with knowledge of the GSHS protocols and processes. Consequently, each of the eight countries will be expected to develop their own GSHS protocol, tools, and budget, and be fully prepared for the survey implementation.
Only 19 countries in the WHO African region have conducted GSHS surveys since 2001, with none being conducted in the past five years. The most recent surveys were carried out in Liberia, Mauritius, and Sierra Leone in 2017. Several GSHS surveys are outdated and cannot be used for policy development in Africa.
As a result, it is essential to carry out both the GSHS and G-SHPPS to provide valuable information for planning and policies regarding NCD and other health risk factors among adolescents.
According to Dr. Diallo Cheick Bady, Technical Officer for Strategic Information at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, the GSHS is crucial for informing policies and programs aimed at promoting the health and well-being of students. “Ideally, these surveys should be conducted every five years to make a meaningful contribution to policies,” he said.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) represented by Dr Rudo Chikodzero Director Epidemiology and Diseases Control officiated the workshop and emphasized the preventability of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). She noted that with the right policies for NCD prevention and treatment, the increasing trend of NCDs can be reversed.
“Addressing four (modifiable) risk factors, including tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity, can prevent most premature deaths from NCDs,” she said.
During his opening remarks Professor Jean-Marie Dangou, WHO Representative in Zimbabwe, highlighted the importance of the GSHS in promoting health and addressing NCDs risk factors during the workshop’s opening ceremony.
“Adolescents accounted for 23% of the total population in 2020, and it’s crucial to promote good health practices during this period of rapid physical, cognitive, and psychosocial growth making adolescence a crucial stage of human development, and it’s essential to establish healthy foundations during this period,” he said.
WHO has been working with countries in Africa and other regions to strengthen their capacity to conduct the survey and use the data to inform policies and programs since 2001. WHO has also been providing technical assistance and training to national coordination teams to ensure the quality and comparability of the data collected.
The Global School Health Survey (GSHS) is a comprehensive survey that gathers data on health behaviors and protective factors among students between the ages of 13 and 17.
The survey encompasses a wide range of topics such as tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, dietary behaviors, physical activity, hygiene, mental health, and violence and unintentional injury. The G-SHPPSS generates scientifically credible school-level data that provides insight into the characteristics of school health policies and practices across the nation.