JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Under the initiative administrated by the National Health Fund (NHF), six screening tests are offered at no cost to high school students, who are selected. These tests are blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, haemoglobin, blood sugar and electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • The wellness programme, which caters to children ages 11 to 17, is designed to enhance their health and well-being by focusing on increased physical activity, healthy eating, and health screening.
  • Students at more than 45 high schools have been tested under the programme, which began in 2008.

The Government’s School Wellness Programme is being hailed by one grateful school administrator for potentially saving the life of one of her students.

Under the initiative administrated by the National Health Fund (NHF), six screening tests are offered at no cost to high school students, who are selected. These tests are blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, haemoglobin, blood sugar and electrocardiogram (ECG).

Principal of Knox College in Manchester, Alexander Bourne, tells JIS News that of the more than 400 students tested at his school during the last academic year, several were found to have lifestyle illnesses, with one student suffering from a heart condition.

“That student was taken to a private doctor by his mother, and the health practitioner requested a full report on the condition. It was sent the next day, and I must commend the NHF for facilitating the fast-tracking of the young man’s treatment, and potentially saved his life,” he tells JIS News.

He notes that the parents are “very grateful” for the programme “because there were several cases where lifestyle diseases and other health issues were revealed by the tests, and the parents were able to take corrective steps.”

Mr. Bourne says the programme also saves parents on the cost of testing their children for these conditions.

“Many of the lifestyle diseases that would have been caught are issues that are very costly, so it has saved them money, and the benefit of having the knowledge that you are healthy is very useful to these young persons and the parents. I hope that it continues to help us test and screen our young people to identify issues and save them,” he states.

The wellness programme, which caters to children ages 11 to 17, is designed to enhance their health and well-being by focusing on increased physical activity, healthy eating, and health screening.

It also seeks to build awareness of chronic illnesses while fostering health-related discussions, and has also allowed the NHF to identify common chronic illnesses in students, provide counseling, and create a forum for acceptance of the importance of testing for early detection of illnesses.

Students at more than 45 high schools have been tested under the programme, which began in 2008.

Students are selected for testing based on their own medical and family history. Those who are known to suffer from diabetes, asthma and epilepsy and are overweight or obese, are also drafted to participate. The screening process requires parents to sign a consent form.

Students are counselled and referrals for further evaluation are made for those who present with abnormal results. The school nurse or guidance counsellor is also heavily involved and provide further counselling and follow-up with students and parents in the months after screening is done, including ensuring that they see their doctor and change their lifestyles.

In addition to testing, educational brochures on chronic illnesses and NHF application forms are made available on screening days. The schools are also given guidelines and encouraged to incorporate a Wellness Club as a part of their activities.

More than 15 schools participated in the programme in the 2013/14 academic year, with over 2,500 children tested for chronic illnesses, up from three institutions in 2012/13.

The results showed overweight issues, elevated blood pressure, and blood sugar and cholesterol challenges.

“We welcome the programme and many of the parents were greatly appreciative of it, because the programme allowed them to become aware of the illnesses, and how to do follow-ups,” says Guidance Counsellor at the Annotto Bay High School, Sharma Knight.

Physical education teacher at the Clarendon-based Denbigh High, Christine Bartley, whose school participated in the programme for the first time last school year, tells JIS News that the initiative is an “excellent” one.

She says that the students value the opportunity and are now much more conscious of health issues. “We want to thank the NHF for the opportunity, and really hope that they will continue, not only for my school, but all the schools in Jamaica,” she states.

According to Health Promotion Coordinator at the NHF, Debbie Guiness-Brown, illness prevention is one of the tools used in reducing the burden that healthcare can have on families.

She says that through the school wellness initiative “we choose to take screening to students simply because we want to educate and encourage them from an early age to be proactive in protecting their health.”

Mrs. Guinness-Brown appealed to parents and guardians to encourage their children to do the screening tests being offered. “Remember that we cannot know what is going on inside our bodies unless we do screening tests such as these,” she states.

According to the NHF, children should be involved in preventive health habits at an early age, and hopefully, they will continue on through to the teenage and adult years. It is equally important to conduct screening on children in order to determine their risk.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and asthma are all costly to treat, and affect the quality of life of persons who are inflicted.

The illnesses are highly preventable and exercise, proper nutrition and early screening are essential for preventing, delaying and controlling all chronic illnesses.