INDIANAPOLIS - Public health researchers at IUPUI are working with inmates in the Indiana prison system to provide health resources and act as advocates for their peers. Andrea Janota, program coordinator at the ECHO Center, says the Indiana Peer Education Program's model is that "prison health is public health."

The initiative is part of a worldwide program to improve health among underserved populations. Project ECHO, or Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, uses videoconferencing to teach medical knowledge and provide training to health care providers.

The Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI's ECHO Center says it is the first site to replicate Project ECHO's prison peer education program, which started in 2009 in New Mexico. 

IUPUI's Indiana Peer Education Program ECHO team is empowering people who are incarcerated to learn about health and pass that knowledge to their peers. 

Graduates of the program learn about common health conditions affecting prison populations, including infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, staph/MRSA skin infections and tuberculosis; mental health issues such as suicide risk, depression and anxiety; HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; diabetes; and addiction.

They then conduct lessons focusing on building leadership and avoiding risky behaviors, building skills that can translate to life outside of prison.

"Over 95 percent of people who are incarcerated will return to their home communities," Janota said in a news release. "The Indiana Peer Education Program ECHO is a train-the-trainer model that provides an extraordinary opportunity to improve not only the health of people who are incarcerated, but also the health of their families and communities."