The 11 for Health: Country-wide implementation launched in Mauritius

The Mauritius Football Association and the Mauritian Ministries of Education and Human Resources, of Youth and Sport, and of Health and Quality of Life, together with the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC), today launched an 11-week programme in a nationwide implementation project in all secondary schools in Mauritius.

In an official launch ceremony at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Moka, Mauritius, the President of the Mauritius Football Association Dinnanathlall Persunnoo together with the Minister of Youth and Sports Satyaprakash Ritoo today presented all physical education coaches who underwent special training in 'The 11 for Health' in December last year with their instructor certificates. This launch opens the second phase of the country’s adaption of F-MARC’s prevention programme.

Playing football is healthy and able to prevent or reduce risk factors for many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), but the game is also a powerful tool in education and prevention. F-MARC’s 'The 11 for Health' programme focuses on delivering health education to the youth population of Africa in a football environment in order to improve their knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviour towards communicable and non-communicable diseases in order to reduce their future prevalence.

Following the presentation of the results of F-MARC’s pilot study on 'The 11 for Health' in South Africa at the FIFA Medical Conference in October 2009, the Mauritius Football Association was among the first to recognise the power of the programme. They felt that football, the one passion that unites all African countries, could prove a most effective, feasible and low-cost tool in Mauritius’s fight for health, too.

Mauritius is facing challenges in the wake of changing lifestyles, new dietary patterns and ageing of the population, which increase the burden of NCDs. Successive national surveys have shown that NCDs and their risk factors represent a major threat to public health: NCDs represent 74 per cent of the total burden of disease in men and 76 per cent in women. Mauritius has one of the highest prevalences of diabetes worldwide. After the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life had coordinated the implementation of a wide-ranging programme aimed at prevention and control of diseases and risk factors over the years, a national survey in 2004 demonstrated the success of some measures but also a lack with regard to a number of target points.

Acting quickly, an 11-week pilot programme was run in 11 schools in Mauritius in 2010, which showed a similar increase in health knowledge as had been observed in South Africa. Just as importantly, the programme received very favourable feedback from children and coaches. At the end of the programme, the participating children were awarded with certificates in an official ceremony.

Encouraged by this success and the enthusiasm with which the programme was greeted at schools, the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life decided to launch the nationwide implementation of the programme without delay. The education curriculum and related support materials were revised according to the situation in Mauritius and a specific message addressing diabetes was included.

The coaches of the 2010 project attended a refresher training programme in autumn last year and subsequently educated two P.E. teachers from most secondary schools in Mauritius (approximately 300 teachers) during two five-day courses in December.

The teachers will deliver 'The 11 for Health' programme over an 11-week period from January to April 2011. All participating secondary schools in Mauritius have been advised to start the programme as from 24 January 2011. To this end, a batch of sports equipment comprising balls, bibs, plastic cones and T-shirts will be donated to each school today for use during their classes.

The ambitious aim is that all children in their first year of secondary school, totalling approximately 20,000, will take part in “The 11 for Health” programme in 2011 and then the partners will decide on the continuation of the project.

To evaluate the acceptance and effects of the intervention, all children will complete a questionnaire prior to and after the intervention period. The course and the results of this first study on the nationwide implementation of “The 11 for Health” will offer unique insights that will guide the future approach of F-MARC towards using football as a medium for delivering health education in other countries.