The acceptability, feasibility and impact of a lay health counsellor delivered health promoting schools programme in India: a case study evaluation

Divya Rajaraman, Sandra Travasso, Achira Chatterjee, Bhargav Bhat, Gracy Andrew, Suraj Parab, Vikram Patel
BMC Health Services Research 2012 May 25, 12: 127

BACKGROUND: Studies in resource-limited settings have shown that there are constraints to the use of teachers, peers or health professionals to deliver school health promotion interventions. School health programmes delivered by trained lay health counsellors could offer a cost-effective alternative. This paper presents a case study of a multi-component school health promotion intervention in India that was delivered by lay school health counsellors, who possessed neither formal educational nor health provider qualifications.

METHODS: The intervention was based on the WHO's Health Promoting Schools framework, and included health screening camps; an anonymous letter box for student questions and complaints; classroom-based life skills training; and, individual psycho-social and academic counselling for students. The intervention was delivered by a lay school health counsellor who had attained a minimum of a high school education. The counsellor was trained over four weeks and received structured supervision from health professionals working for the implementing NGO. The evaluation design was a mixed methods case study. Quantitative process indicators were collected to assess the extent to which the programme was delivered as planned (feasibility), the uptake of services (acceptability), and the number of students who received corrective health treatment (evidence of impact). Semi-structured interviews were conducted over two years with 108 stakeholders, and were analysed to identify barriers and facilitators for the programme (feasibility), evaluate acceptability, and gather evidence of positive or negative effects of the programme.

RESULTS: Feasibility was established by the high reported coverage of all the targeted activities by the school health counsellor. Acceptability was indicated by a growing number of submissions to the students' anonymous letter-box; more students self-referring for counselling services over time; and, the perceived need for the programme, as expressed by principals, parents and students. A minority of teachers complained that there was inadequate information sharing about the programme and mentioned reservations about the capacities of the lay health counsellor. Preliminary evidence of the positive effects of the programme included the correction of vision problems detected in health screening camps, and qualitative evidence of changes in health-related knowledge and behaviour of students.

CONCLUSION: A task-shifting approach of delegating school health promotion activities to lay school health counsellors rather than education or health professionals shows promise of effectiveness as a scalable model for promoting the health and well being of school based adolescents in resource constrained settings.

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