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EAC Secretariat contributes to establishing a One Health workforce in the region

East African Community Headquarters, Arusha, Tanzania, 15 December 2020: Outbreaks of infectious diseases are not only a health concern but affect many sectors. In the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic education, tourism and trade were among those that were hardest hit. The EAC Secretariat addresses this issue by applying the One Health approach in disease management. The approach involves all areas of society that would be affected by a disease outbreak, can contribute to preventing and combating it and to mitigating its impact. “In an effort to establish and train an urgently needed, strong One Health workforce, the EAC Secretariat with support from universities in all EAC Partner States and from the German Government developed a regional, generic, interdisciplinary postgraduate course on “Pandemic Preparedness with a One Health Approach (PPOH)”, explains the Hon. Christophe Bazivamo, Deputy Secretary General Productive and Social Sectors. “The curriculum will enable these experts to consider the needs of various stakeholders stronger, when mitigating the impact of disease outbreaks like COVID-19”.

PPOH is a short innovative, professional and interdisciplinary course for key personnel and future experts in pandemic preparedness and management. “It is based on lessons learnt from past threats, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2014-2016, which showed that a multisectoral response including resource mobilisation and coordination is significant for success”, says Timothy Wesonga. He is the Regional Pandemic Preparedness and One Health Advisor in the Support to Pandemic Preparedness in the EAC region (PanPrep) project that supports the EAC Secretariat in its coordinating and advisory role for the Partner States in pandemic preparedness.

The purpose of the course is to provide critical knowledge and skills to diverse potential responders to infectious diseases whenever and wherever they occur in East Africa. The 13 modules of the short course introduce the students to various aspects of disease outbreaks, such as instruments for and governance of prevention and control and draw their attention to the impact on sectors like agriculture, tourism and wildlife or trade. The modules look at ecosystem health and climate change as critical causes for outbreaks and emphasise the engagement of communities in prevention and response.

The 2-week course was piloted in Kenya, at Egerton University, Department of Applied Community Development Studies, in cooperation with Moi University. The 25 trainees all had Bachelor degrees or above with backgrounds in human, public, animal and environmental health, in health informatics and pharmacy, natural resources, education and agriculture, community development, nutrition and food safety as well as public administration among others. They came from ministries, universities, non-governmental organisations and research. More than half of them were women. The students were from all 6 Partner States and the lecturers represented 4 of the EAC Partner States. Through the exchange of experiences across sectors and professions and joint learning the course also contributed to regional integration.

In the subsequent evaluation, the trainees stated that the course was good and met their expectations. However, they recommended that it should be longer to do full justice to the content. PPOH was originally designed as a short 2-3 weeks certificate courses, but as a generic course it can be progressed to a further certificate, diploma or degree course at middle level or institutions of higher learning, depending on the target group and needs of respective countries. Based on the positive evaluation, both Egerton and Moi Universities included the course in their syllabi. The full evaluation report by Egerton University is available for download on the EAC website: https://www.eac.int/health/pandemic-preparedness.

A second pilot is scheduled for next year at Makerere University in Uganda, after which both courses will be evaluated externally and – if necessary - adapted to fully meet the needs and expectations of the trainees and of the job market.

PPOH was implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH through PanPrep and developed as a face-to-face course in collaboration with EPOS Health Management and the Institute of Global Health of the German University of Heidelberg.

In the light of the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the Heidelberg Institute of Global Health (HIGH) developed the existing material further into an online-course and offered it in the context of the Heidelberg Summer School Programme to students of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in October 2020. The 19 students came from 9 countries across Africa. All of them held DAAD scholarships and conducted their PhD or master studies in their respective home countries or within their geographical region. They had diverse backgrounds, such as agricultural economics, healthcare management, tropical and infectious diseases, food science and gender studies among others.

In their evaluation 90% of the participants strongly agreed that the chosen topics were relevant to the context of their country or region and that the overall quality of the modules was high. 88% agreed or strongly agreed that the chosen topics were relevant to their field of study. They particularly highlighted that the course was based on an adequate mix of didactical approaches and had a good balance between inputs and discussion. All participants agreed or strongly agreed that the training will benefit their professional career prospects. “The course was highly successfully implemented online, involving facilitators of all universities in the EAC”, says HIGH Professor Olaf Horstick. “The online material that was developed can be used by all EAC Universities involved in the course. For this purpose, it should be converted in more local online and face-to-face courses for the region.”  

 “I think that the course is very useful and relevant for participants from different countries”, comments Tsehayneh Geremew Yohannes from Ethiopia, a Ph.D. student major in Food Science and Nutrition at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya, “personally, I have accumulated vast experiences in surveillance and outbreak investigation, risk and crisis communication, partnerships and resource mobilisation, preparedness planning and data management and sharing during disaster events. This was the first time I had taken part in online training and I was impressed at how effective it proved to be.” And Joelia Nasaka, another participant studying for her PhD at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, adds “I learnt a lot during the summer school right from online teaching/learning to real application of knowledge in pandemic preparedness. I met wonderful people from different parts of the world, different cultures all brought together in one virtual space and for that I am grateful for the exposure.”

Dr Juliet Kiguli of Makerere University held a live session for PPOH. She stressed that “the pandemic preparedness course took place at an opportune time when there was the COVID-19 outbreak. It helped equip participants from sub Saharan African countries with skills of One Health and emphasises the benefits of North and South partnerships, like the one between the University of Heidelberg and the East African universities of Egerton, Moi and Makerere. To us the facilitators”, Dr Kiguli added, “it helped show that online teaching was useful and well arranged to enable both lecture methods: group work to enhance learning and practical exercises. This took the participants out of silos and built multidisciplinary thinking to solve problems.” 

Based on the high demand for the course in the region (122 students applied for the first pilot), the EAC Secretariat and PanPrep consider developing it into a full Diploma or Master course. “The current pandemic has provided so much valuable input and so many lessons learned”, says PanPrep Project Manager Dr Irene Lukassowitz, “they should be included in the curriculum to the benefit of the EAC region and beyond.”


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