Health Information Centres (HICs) – the community youth spaces driving better health in India

Health Information Centres (HICs) are youth-friendly, community spaces that have been set-up and run by AstraZeneca’s Young Health Programme (YHP) in India, in partnership with Plan International India, since the beginning of the programme in 2010.

HICs are functioning as the focal point for delivering activities in the communities and providing a safe and youth-friendly location for young people to learn about healthy behaviours in an interesting and engaging way.

Each centre is fully equipped with resources and materials to support the health education of young people. There are a range of weekly activities for young people, such as learning sessions on NCD risk factors, counselling sessions by qualified practitioners, street theatre workshops, nutrition awareness camps, meetings with parents and community leaders, debates, competitions, and sports.

I am a big fan of HIC. This safe and friendly environment at HIC helped me to remain safe from vulnerabilities. I used to spend time with my friends doing nothing on the street but after joining YHP/HIC, now I utilize my time in an appropriate manner.

Amzad, 19-year old YHP Peer Educator, North-West Delhi

The HIC model is fundamental to the long-term sustainability of the YHP in India. From the outset the plan has been to build up a valuable community resource that provides essential health education and activities for young people, with a high level of support from the local communities. Once established, the HICs can be transitioned to other local organisations or institutions, enabling them to continue to operate beyond the end of the programme.

Following a series of consultations and meetings with key local stakeholders, and successful advocacy actions carried out locally by the YHP team, the HICs of the 2016-2021 programme in North-West Delhi are now being successfully integrated into government schools in the programme areas.

In April 2021, 11 of the 15 HICs have been fully integrated into middle and secondary government schools in Bawana, Sultanpuri and Prem Nagar, and the remaining HICs are currently pending approvals due to schools being closed in some locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three of these HICs have also been integrated into other Plan India projects in the same communities.

Since the selected schools are government run institutions, they can continue to provide a safe and protective environment for young people. Having HICs integrated in schools enables a larger number of young people to be reached, including many who were not previously reached through YHP activities.

Through the HICs, schools will continue to promote healthy behaviours and engage young people on the topic of NCD prevention and broader health. Teachers have now taken charge of running the HICs, after training by the YHP and under the guidance and support of the school principal. They are facilitating health sessions, sports activities, observing various health days. These teachers have all volunteered to continue to run the HICs to promote healthy lifestyles among young people, demonstrating both local commitment and sustainability.

The successful transition of HICs to local schools across India demonstrates a strong local commitment to youth health as well as sustainability of the centres themselves. HICs play an important part in providing a safe space for young people to learn and discuss important topics which can have long-term, positive impacts to their health and well-being.

Gagan Singh, Country President, AstraZeneca India

The school based HICs have been painted with vibrant pictures promoting healthy behaviours, and contain resources including those developed by the YHP, such as manuals and flipbooks. Question boxes have also been installed within the HICs so that young people can anonymously ask questions about their health and get appropriate expert responses, in a truly confidential manner.

Because I am a girl, my parents did not allow me to access the HIC, but when YHP staff convinced my parents, they allowed me to participate in sports sessions. My parents were shocked to see the positive changes in my personality as now I am quite outspoken and I can independently facilitate the meeting and sessions in the community.

Anjali, 21-year old YHP Peer Educator, North-West Delhi