I have been working on the treatment of diseases as a medical research scientist for most of my professional career. Although some of these treatments can be life-saving, it became clear to me through my work that the long-term solution to India’s high burden of diseases and injuries is not focusing on treatment. Treatment can be expensive, and as we well know, most families do not have access to quality healthcare. Instead, I came to the conclusion that there needed to be a much bigger focus on prevention. And, even better, focusing on prevention through youth. By helping children develop healthy habits early on, they can continue these habits as they grow up as adults. Not only would this help with disease prevention, it would allow children to thrive and reach their full potential.
This realization brought me to the next step in my journey—imparting this information to children so that they can develop healthy habits. I discovered there was no formalized curriculum or structure for kids to learn about health in India—no required class, student books, or even teachers’ manuals. While there may have been a chapter or two in a science or environmental studies textbook, there was no program that covered physical, mental and social health issues in a comprehensive school health program.
With this goal in mind, I began a non-profit organization in the US (indianhealthalliance.org) in 2009, and one in India (taranghealthalliance.org) in 2018. Our mission is to improve the health of India’s children through comprehensive health education programs.
A key element of the program is to develop health education integrated with family engagement, daily physical activity, and school health services. We have developed health education standards and a comprehensive curriculum for India’s youth—partially based on my professional experience—and intense educational research.
The curriculum we have written is for Grade 6 & 7, including student workbooks and teachers’ manuals in English and Hindi. (See the cover of the Grade 6 student workbook and the list of chapters below.)
We partnered with Dr. J.S.Thakur, Professor in the School of Public Health at Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India, who has been engaged in several school health projects there.
We also worked closely with the Department of Education and Department of Health in Chandigarh regarding our program and goals, and they have agreed to ensure at least 50 hours of Health Education instruction each academic year.
We are now in the midst of launching a two-year pilot program of our curriculum with 1,000 students in 20 schools in Chandigarh—10 private and 10 public. Last week, I arrived in Chandigarh to train 40 teachers from these 20 schools on how to become proficient in the instruction of the health education curriculum we have created.
The program will be assessed based on student knowledge from baseline to the end of the program, as well as improvement in their overall health behaviors. If our pilot program is successful, we will have succeeded in a major milestone towards making health education mandatory in all schools in Chandigarh for Grades 6-7.
We are also in the process of writing student workbooks and teachers’ manuals for Grades 1-5 as well as Grades 8-12.
Our long-term goal is to make health education mandatory in all schools and at all grade levels in Chandigarh, and then to expand to other States and Union Territories in India.
It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. By introducing health education in schools, we are giving villages the tools to raise healthy children. Together, working with India’s school systems and state governments, we hope to empower children to take ownership of their health, and in the process, change the trajectory of India’s future.
Rahul Mehra has had a long career in academia and the medical industry, where he worked on the treatment of disease, including the management of heart disorders, such as sudden cardiac death and atrial fibrillation. He holds over 75 patents for various medical devices. After retiring 10 years ago, he started Indian Health Alliance in the US in 2009 and Tarang Health Alliance in India in 2018. Rahul received his B.Tech from IIT, Kharagpur, and his PhD in Biomedical Engineering in the US.