The Health Promotion Bureau (HPB) is the centre of excellence in Sri Lanka for health education, health promotion and publicity of health information. Empowering and mobilizing communities for the improvement of their quality of life through health promotion principles is the main achievement gained during the last few years.
Public awareness aiming for healthy behaviour changes in the community through mass media is a unique service that has been providing for years by HPB and appraised by all sectors. In addition, HPB plays a vital role in public awareness about health promotion and healthy behaviour changes by actively participating in mass scale health exhibitions, national campaign days, and community events. Various types of health education material have been produced to address emerging health issues such as Dengue, Leptospirosis, malnutrition and Non- Communicable diseases. Developing households and public places such as hospital, school, villages, work place etc as health promotion settings is another successful program conducted by the HPB.
The ‘Suwasariya’ / Healthnet provides fast and simple expert advice in all three languages about any health issue and what to do next through telephone calls, e mails or Skype and is supported by a tri lingual web site which contains information on health. As a whole, HPB has been successful and has received recognition for its remarkable contribution to health promotion through integrated multidisciplinary approach. HPB is at present headed by the Director Health Education and Publicity. The Director is assisted by the Deputy Director, and a team of Consultant Community Physicians, Consultant in Community Dentistry, Medical Officers, Dental Surgeons, Chief Health Education Officer, Health Education Officer, Administrative and Supportive staff. Apart from undergraduate and postgraduate training, continuous in service training has been carried out for health care staff and other personal involved or interested in health promotion. Routinely, HPB provides technical consultation for advisory committees, workshops, research and surveys and is very often invited by other public organizations to share its expertise.
The Health Education services in the country dates back to the mid-twentieth century. In the initial stages it functioned as a small unit of the public health section of the Department of Health Services and consisted of two units. One at the Head Office manned by a sociologist designated as the Chief Health Education Officer, a Health Education Officer and two Publicity Officers. The other unit was the Health Education Material Production Unit (HEMPU) manned by a trained Public Health Inspector. The main focus was the prevention of common communicable diseases prevalent at the time such as malaria, worm infestations, diarrheal diseases and typhoid fever, through public meetings, distribution of public health material such as posters, leaflets and brochures. The newsletter “Sapatha” began its publications in the nineteen fifties and was useful to enhance the knowledge of health workers. The next important development was the establishment of District Level Units, where a Public Health Inspector, trained in Health Education and designated as a Health Educator was appointed as in charge of the Unit. They were responsible for the services in the district under the guidance of the Central Unit. Each district was provided with a vehicle fitted with audio/visual equipment such as projectors, loud speakers etc. While the major functions of the Health Education Officers (HEOs) continued to remain largely focused on information dissemination. They also assisted the field health staff in their health education activities by providing them with educational material and guidance in their use. The major re-organization of the services was in the mid-nineteen seventies with the appointment of a full time Medical Officer in the administrative grade with postgraduate qualifications majoring in Health Education as in charge of the Unit. The section at the Head Office was merged with the HEMPU to form a single organizational unit named as the Health Education Division of the Ministry of Health under the administrative purview of a Director who was later designated as Director Health Education and Publicity. Within the next few years with the support of the World Health Organization, there was rapid development of the organization into a fully fledged bureau on the lines similar to the Family Health Bureau. The staff at the Health Education Bureau (HEB) now consisted of a full time Director assisted by four Medical Officers, one Dental Surgeon, all with postgraduate qualifications in Health Education, five Health Education Officers with postgraduate Diplomas in Health Education and two Publicity Officers with postgraduate qualifications in charge of the mass media programme. The rising burden of Non Communicable Diseases and the threat of epidemics of Communicable Diseases identified the need to plan, implement, monitor and evaluate efficient health promotion strategies thereby leading to the upgrading of the HEB to the status of Health Promotion Bureau. Furthermore, twelve specialized Units have been established with a view to effectively implementing the strategies identified in the National Health Promotion Policy.