Pupils to undergo health audit

Thousands of pupils' psychological and physical state will be evaluated as part of a audit of child health.

Children will have to fill out a questionnaire as part of the health audit.
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ABU DHABI // The psychological and physical state of thousands of pupils will be evaluated as part of a comprehensive audit of child health. The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Education will work together to assess pupils at private and public schools, and the results will be used to develop new health programmes in schools. The evaluation, to be launched after Ramadan, would run for three months. In the northern emirates, all pupils in grades one, five and nine will be tested. The children will have to provide a medical history, fill out a questionnaire and be examined by a doctor. Dr Mariam al Matroushi, the interim head of health legislation and school health programmes at the MoH, said the scheme would highlight prevention through vaccinations, check-ups, fitness tests and dental care. Programmes aimed at early detection of infectious diseases were also planned. "The school health centres will continue to provide specialised health services in dentistry, ophthalmology and nutrition, to which will be added mental health." Mental health and obesity were the two prime areas of concern, she said. "Health is complete physical, mental and social well-being. "We will screen for common psychological problems - mental problems that students can be affected by, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD. It is not a conclusive questionnaire, it is a screening questionnaire." Pupils who test positive will be asked to take another questionnaire and will be referred to a specialist. "Many studies around the world have shown that mental problems are very common, especially in adolescence. This is a period with fast change. You can have many different problems," she said. "Sometimes a trivial disturbance can lead to bigger problems if we don't treat it very well. It can lead to drug abuse and suicide. When should we wait to treat it - after addiction, after death?" All results will be confidential. The survey comes three years after another child health study, which was organised by the MoH in conjunction with the World Health Organisation, suggested depression was a significant concern. The new study will also consider safety in the schools. In the 2005 survey, children said they often felt physically threatened in school. More than half the boys and almost a third of the girls surveyed said they had been in a physical fight in the past year. One in three students said they were seriously injured and one in five pupils said they were bullied. More than 20 per cent of students said they had skipped school because they felt it would be unsafe. A 2006 study found that in the Gulf region, 13.7 per cent of children were obese and 21.5 per cent were overweight. Dr Matroushi said: "The number one concern for all groups is obesity. A lack of awareness about their lifestyle can turn students into sick people very easily." A lack of activity and malnutrition were contributing factors, she said. "Many people say malnutrition makes people thin, but overeating with very poor stuff can lead to malnutrition. Malnutrition is a disease which includes obesity." Dr Ali bin Shakar, executive director of the MoH, said: "The MoH will focus on a series of initiatives and targets at the national level aimed at improving the health system, based on making health services available to all and leading to a disease-free environment, by identifying and eliminating risk factors." He said school health programmes had a significant impact on overall public health, and that experts considered such plans necessary to fight chronic disease and health problems. The health programme would focus on prevention. @email:amcmeans@thenational.ae