Woman administering Oral Rehydration Treatment (ORT) to child

IHO was founded by an inter-disciplinary  group of global health experts drawn from different schools and institutions at Harvard University working in their personal capacity as volunteers- Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Institute of International Development, J F Kennedy School of Government, among others. One of its strongest supporters and mentors was the world renowned Professor Emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith at Harvard University, and former US ambassador to India. His initial endorsement and recommendation paved the way for IHO’s first pilot program, The Bihar Project. READ HERE Honorable Ambassador’s recommendation from 1992!

A landmark study: In 1992 and 1993, IHO conducted a series of surveys examining the socioeconomic, health and environmental conditions in the rural region of Bihar, one of the poorest areas of India. Problems were found in every sector – from health & development to education & employment. Based upon a thorough analysis of the survey results, Bihar’s demographics and prevailing government policies, we concluded that the majority of illnesses in the area were caused by contaminated water and food, poor hygiene and lack of sanitation facilities.

The resultant high incidence of diarrheal, zoonotic and other water-borne diseases are the principal cause of increased mortality among infants and children and the loss of productivity among adults. Both lead to increased poverty in the region. Diseases caused by contaminated food and water affected every age group and every aspect of life. They are the most urgent and pervasive of all health issues in poor, rural communities like Bihar.

As a result, IHO decided to make the control of water-borne diseases, through the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, accompanied by training in proper hygiene the backbone of its public health mission in South Asia. Other IHO public health programs are designed to integrate with this foundation and build upon it.

An action plan for Bihar: Based on the conclusions of its study, IHO then designed a series of realistic, long-term environmental health and development projects that would address each of the health problems found. The projects had to be testable on a small scale and would allow us to establish good will with the communities and operational relationships with the regional agencies and institutions in the area.

IHO healthcare
Group outside IHO’s health center in Bihar

To start with, IHO donors in the United States and India provided the initial seed money, resources and technology for the program. Then IHO coordinating a group of volunteers made up of South Asian expatriates, U.S. citizens, local experts and NGOs to work with the people living in rural communities in Bihar. These volunteers trained some of the women of the community as health educators who then went out and trained others in health and proper hygiene techniques. This enabled the women from the local community to prevent the contamination of their water source and maintain a healthy living environment. We call this our “self-help” model for community development.

Ongoing education and support: From the outset, we recognized that in order to provide a sustainable supply of clean water, our overall program would have to be long-term and comprehensive. We knew that we needed to provide ongoing education and support along with the new infrastructure for clean water and sanitation or our efforts would ultimately fail. Our self-help model provides that ongoing education and support in a way that is cost-effective and perfectly suited to the local culture and environment.

In summary: The underlying theme of IHO programs is that improved environmental health is the most basic need of rural, underdeveloped communities and that its two components – community health and community development – are interdependent and need to be focused upon concurrently and equally.

We believe that our integrated and holistic health program that combines clean water and sanitation facilities with health, hygiene and vocational training is transferable to rural communities in many countries. Our self-help model of ongoing training and support assures that the improvement in the health of a community is sustained We hope that our work will encourage collaboration among other United States and South Asian organizations and agencies.

Details of our initial findings have been presented and discussed at several national and international meetings, including several annual conferences of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in the United States and the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) in Indonesia.

Current status & future goals: After successful and impactful implementation of preventive health programs in the Indian Sub-continent, IHO is now trying to expand its programs in all states of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and in other developing countries. IHO is also implementing its prevention programs for refugees and immigrant populations in US as well. By 2020, we aim to implement our diabetes and cardiovascular diseases screening and prevention program for ONE MILLION people in Indian sub-continent- subject to availability of funding and government support.