In 2015, the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine in Sri Lanka identified non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as the most pressing health concern in the country, releasing a National Multisectoral Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2016-2020, and tasking the national NCD unit to execute this plan. The goal of the NCD unit is to promote lifestyle change to people throughout Sri Lanka. Through this plan, the unit was specifically tasked to increase the capacity building of health workers by developing and conducting training programs related to NCDs.
One major goal of the 2016-2020 Plan was to achieve a 10% reduction in the prevalence of insufficient physical activity across Sri Lanka. Initial activities of the NCD unit included creating dedicated walking paths and setting up gym facilities in districts across the country. Yet, there was a lack of staff expertise specific to physical activity/exercise. Additionally, the first strategic action area of the NCD plan was to prioritize NCD prevention in the national health plan and establish multisectoral activities, including national, provincial and district level workshops. Under the guidance of this strategic action area, the NCD unit formed a collaboration with the EIM Sri Lanka team over the past year and a half with the goal of providing training to public health workforce across the country.
The idea behind this collaboration was a mutual desire to train ground-level health professionals, such as public health doctors, inspectors, nurses and public health workers on the basics to physical activity. All individuals eligible for the training are government workers under the supervision of Ministry of Health medical health officers. The training itself consists of the basics to assessing and promoting physical activity with the end goal of empower the health team to promote physical activity during home visits and in their village ‘lifestyle’ clinics. They were also trained to recognize patients with more complicated health situations who need referral back to sports medicine physicians. Leaders of EIM Sri Lanka saw this as an opportunity to train new ‘trainers’ across the country, as well as an opportunity to include this work as a part of the community medicine appointment of their sports medicine physician trainees.
The physical activity trainings first started in July 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this, trainings have taken place in 5 of 9 provinces in Sri Lanka with two to three workshops conducted in each province, consisting of 40-50 health professionals at each workshop. While broad scale rollout of the trainings has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, the EIM Sri Lanka team is eager to resume full scale activities as vaccination levels increase and rates of infection decline. Their future plans include making a series of videos to serve as reference source for the health professionals while providing demonstrations on exercises and proper techniques, as well as another series of videos that can be played in clinic waiting rooms for patients as they wait for their healthcare provider. Lastly, the NCD unit is planning a full-scale evaluation of the training workshops to determine the level of impact of the trainings in getting Sri Lankans more physically active.