Strategic Approach to studying National Health Programs

Disclaimer: This article is primarily intended for my students. However, the information provided is of a general nature and may be of benefit to others as well.

One of the questions posed to me recently was regarding how to study National Health Programs for the university examinations. In this article I will present one approach to studying about National Programs.

I do not believe that rote learning or memorizing details of National Programs is useful. Instead, I believe that an appreciation for the context of the National Program is more likely to help remember facts about individual programs.

Here, I present a strategic approach to studying National Health Programs that should help students reasonably answer a short answer question on any program.

Step 1. Understand the background against which the program was launched

There are several reasons why a program/ new phase of a program may be launched:

  1. The health condition(s) is/are major public health problems causing considerable morbidity/ mortality or both, and it is desired to control the same (internal motivation to launch program)
  2. The health condition(s) is/are considered important at the international level, and the government is obliged to eliminate/eradicate the same (external motivation to launch program)
  3. Funding for a previous program has concluded, and a new program (or new version of the existing program) must be launched to continue activities (perhaps with new funding agencies) [when external funding agencies are involved]
  4. To develop health infrastructure and strengthen the health system
  5. To build on the success/ achievements of a program that has completed its tenure
  6. To address deficiencies in implementation of existing program(s)
  7. To bring about course-correction of existing program(s) with health policy and/or international commitments
  8. Populism (political benefit) [sometimes a program that was launched for political reasons may yield unexpected benefits]

It is important to determine which one or more of the above reasons is appropriate for a particular program/ phase of a program. This provides the context/ background of the program/ program phase.

Step 2. Understand the health situation when the program was launched

When one is considering a program that deals with a single disease, one must determine the status of that disease when the program was launched-

  1. Was the disease prevalence increasing/stable/decreasing?
  2. How was the performance of the preceding program/program phase (if any)?
  3. What were the major challenges to disease control at the time?
  4. What were the resource limitations/ resources available?
  5. How was the overall health situation at the time?

While the above may seem tedious, one simply has to perform an online search for the relevant information:

Choose the disease program and note the year of inception/launch.

To answer the first question, search for disease prevalence in the launch year.

To answer the second and third questions, search for the annual report of the previous program/ program phase, or read the introduction of the present/new program/program phase.

Question four is a little difficult to answer, but program reports are a good place to find clues.

To answer the fifth question, search for morbidity and mortality statistics from the year in question.

At the end of Step 2, students should be able to determine (guess) the objectives and priorities of the program/program phase.

Step 3: Read the objective(s) of the program/program phase

Even if a student is unable to guess the objective(s) after Step 2, reading the program/program phase objective(s) after Step 2 will provide a broad understanding of the rationale behind setting the objectives.

Linking Step 3 to the preceding Steps is crucial to acquiring a sense of the purpose of a program/program phase.

Based on the information gathered till now, students should be able to predict appropriate strategies to achieve the objective(s) [and the likelihood of achieving them within the stated timeframe].

Step 4: Read the main strategies/interventions of the program/program phase

With the benefit of the knowledge gained from the preceding Steps, students should be able to see if strategies/interventions are aligned with stated objectives, and identify activities that seem impractical or unrealistic given the available resources.

When dealing with a new phase of an existing program, students merely need to identify the new strategies/interventions, and significant additions/omissions. I recommend students reflect on these changes wherever possible.

Learning specific details of a program (like amount paid under Janani Suraksha Yojana, for instance) is advisable only when those details have a high chance of being asked in the examination.

Following the above approach is likely to enable students to remember enough details regarding National Programs to answer a short answer on any program. Crucially, this approach may reduce the amount of content that has to be memorized. However, this approach requires time to apply and work. Although it is possible that partially following the Steps may be beneficial to some students, I cannot vouch for the same.

Useful Links:

Link to similar article on Communicable Diseases:

Link to PDF document of the above article:


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