September 22, 2021

Health For All: Empowering Children and Communities

Non communicable diseases (NCDs) are one of the biggest threats to human lives.  According to World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs are responsible for 71% of all deaths worldwide (41 million people) and every 2 seconds someone aged 30 to 70 years (at the height of their productivity) dies prematurely from NCDs. However very little has been done so far.  

If one looks at India, where the burden of NCDs is alarmingly high, the numbers are disheartening.  63% deaths in India are due to NCDs.  More than 70 million Indians live with diabetes and it kills at least 1 million Indians per year.  In urban areas, 3 out of 4 adults are diabetic or pre-diabetic.  The economic impact of this is also huge- not just for the individual and their families, but also the country.  Moreover, COVID has shown that underlying health problems, especially NCDs, puts people at risk for more negative health outcomes (i.e., more severe infection, more risk of hospitalization and greater risk of dying).

The good news is that NCDs are preventable!  Therefore, it is not acceptable that 70% of the world’s population is killed by diseases that are largely preventable (NCDs).  According to the World Health Organization, 80% of heart disease, and diabetes, and 40%of cancers can be prevented with 3 lifestyle changes – eating right, exercising and avoiding tobacco. This is where Arogya World comes in.

Arogya World is a U.S .based (501(c)(3), global health non-profit organization that has been working for the last decade to create a world without disease by focusing on preventing NCDs through health education and lifestyle change since 2010.  The focus country has been India which bears an alarmingly high burden of NCDs. Arogya has educated more than 5 million people in India and aims to reach millions more by 2022 when India will be 75 years old.

 Arogya’s work is so pertinent because Health is vital for all people.  Without health we cannot be successful at work and in life or contribute to the global economy.  Arogya was one of the first organizations to understand that healthier men and women contribute to i) more productive workforce, ii) economic empowerment, iii) poverty alleviation for their families by saving healthcare costs, and finally, iv) economic prosperity for the community and country!

RIST has been a very important visionary partner with us in this journey for the past 4 years!  RIST’s partnership in our two core programs below is helping us educate more than 1 million children and adults in India, on healthy living, diabetes prevention and overall well-being.

1)     Healthy Schools Program

In order to win the war against diseases like NCDs, studies show that adolescents should be prioritized as target groups for interventions due to 1) their high adaptability and likelihood to be motivated for appropriate healthy modifications, and 2) the fact that most of the NCD risk factors are behaviorally acquired during adolescence. Arogya World was one of the pioneer organizations in India to realize and act on this through its Healthy Schools Program.  Healthy Schools is a two-year program implemented in thousands of schools all over India since 2012.  In 2020, we have confirmed that our Healthy Schools program is aligned with the Government of India’s new Ayushman Bharat national school health curriculum.

 RIST’s support is helping us reach more than 500,000 over a period of three years.  In response to COVID, when the country was in lockdown, we pivoted from a peer-led school-based model to a self-learning digital mode, so learning on health could continue even when schools were closed.  RIST supported this much needed, critical digitization.  The digitized materials will be housed on government platform Diksha and reach millions moreover the course of next few years.

 RIST’s partnership has also given us the impetus and we are now in aggressive scale up mode and working with governments and very large partners to reach millions of middle school children over the next few years, setting them up for a lifetime of health.  We have started rolling this program out to all middle school children in Goa, and in Thane district in Maharashtra.

 2) mDiabetes Program

With nearly 1 billion mobile phones in use in India, mDiabetes offers a very attractive solution for broad dissemination of health education for everyone.  Arogya World has been therefore using mobile phones to educate people on how they can have a healthier lifestyle and prevent diabetes through its mDiabetes program.  The program engages beneficiaries through a series of text messages (2X/week over 6months) to do so.  Our content has been designed with an underpinning of science and behavior change theory (with Emory University, USA).  

Having shown proof of concept (20% improvement in lifestyle behaviors) in one million people, in the biggest mobile health effort of its kind, with Nokia in 2011-2013, Arogya World wanted to test the utility of text messages in bringing about behavior change known to prevent diabetes, in populations at the base of the pyramid.  We wanted to find motivated consumers with a trusted and well-known partner. RIST support allowed us to send our mDiabetes text messages to 300,000 consumers in the Aravind Eye Hospital community in Tamil Nadu.  

 We got encouraging results which was reflected both in improved awareness and improved lifestyle.  The RIST supported effort helped us add to the evidence base for the use of text messages in NCD prevention. It also highlighted many ways of overcoming on the ground challenges including in recruiting interested participants.

As a follow up from this, RIST is supporting a new project – to test the effectiveness of mDiabetes text messages in the community setting, when combined with additional health education delivered by frontline health workers.  This project which kicked off in March 2021,will be done in partnership with LV Prasad Eye Institute in the Hyderabad area, and will benefit 100,000 villagers.  

Arogya’s work in partnership with RIST is noteworthy because 1) it successfully combines education, healthcare, and technology to help improve the health of current and future generations, 2) it does so by using a door-step health model (i.e., reaching people where they live, learn and work), and 3) it does so at a very cost-effective and highly scalable manner! Our work with RIST is ongoing, and together we are empowering millions of children and adults.  The work is also creating a ripple effect and creating sustainable positive change, especially important in these COVID times! Thank you RIST.