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HHS students create initiative on noncommunicable diseases

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Education, Featured: Education

MEND initiative founders

MEND initiative founders are (from left) Sofia Dhayal, Rithikaa Vigneshwaran, Devanshi Agrawal and Aishwarya Vijay.

A group of Hopkinton High School sophomores has made it their mission to spread awareness about the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases and the inequities that exist in economically disadvantaged areas.

It’s called the Medical Equity for Noncommunicable Diseases (MEND) initiative, and since its inception in 2023, the effort has included creation of a webpage (themendinitiative.wixsite.com/the-mend-initiative), a social media presence on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube, a presentation to middle school students, a webinar and a GoFundMe campaign in support of Mass General Hospital.

MEND co-founders Sofia Dhayal, Rithikaa Vigneshwaran, Devanshi Agrawal and Aishwarya Vijay are members of HOSA (which stands for Health Occupations Students of America, although it’s now known as Future Health Professionals).

HOSA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services and several state and federal agencies. Its goal is to promote leaders in global health communities.

Students participate in conferences, competing in different categories including community awareness and health education, which can include public service announcements and video presentations.

The state event was set for Worcester State University on March 2 and the international conference is June 26-29 in Houston.

Vijay noted that noncommunicable diseases are a “very broad issue” and a topic that holds personal connections with many people.

Vigneshwaran said she and her peers would like to pursue the subject and “take it to its fullest extent” even after the HOSA events are over.

“It’s something I am very passionate about as a person who wants to go into the profession,” Vigneshwaran said.

Noncommunicable diseases result in long-term health consequences and include cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic lung illnesses and more.

Although people of all ages can acquire these conditions, they are especially common in older individuals and those without adequate resources for treatment, the students pointed out.

Because the conditions have long-term consequences, prolonged, expensive care is necessary. According to their research, three-quarters of deaths (31.4 million) occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Agrawal said they found it “shocking” how little is known about NCDs and the stigma and misconceptions surrounding them.

The conditions are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors, she said.

Examples include unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and exposure to tobacco/smoking, alcohol and air pollution, to name a few.

Tips for prevention, therefore, include sustaining a healthy lifestyle, limiting alcohol and tobacco, managing stress, getting checkups and exercising.

HHS teacher and HOSA advisor Marjorie Billeter noted, “It’s a big issue. By raising awareness [through this project], and adopting better lifestyle choices, people have more of a chance for prevention and survival.”

Dhaval said that in addition to spreading the word through social media and presentations, the students hope to form partnerships with adults in the medical community.

She noted that there are existing podcasts that have guest speakers and patients relaying their experiences, both possibilities they are interested in exploring.

In addition, Agrawal said the students are encouraged by the reaction among their peers at school and by the several hundred followers they have gained on social media in a short time.

Seeing a TikTok video with hundreds of likes and more than 1,000 views, for example, speaks to the relevance of the topic and public interest in it.

The students (except for Vijay), envision themselves in medical careers, perhaps as physician’s assistants, while Vijay is interested in law. As 10th graders, they have a lot more time to decide.

For now, the focus is on the HOSA conference and competition.

Billeter said 73 students, compared to 46 last year, were to participate in the state event, the highest number to date.

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