Helping to heal health issues in Africa

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To do the job properly, one must have the proper tools. That was the message of the African participants in a week-long workshop in February of Pears Foundation alumni of the International Master of Public Health program of the Braun Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine. A feature of the workshop was a one-day symposium focusing on current health issues in Africa. Fifteen Pears Foundation alumni, among the most senior public health officials in Africa, participated in the workshop. All had earned their master of public health degrees at the Braun School in previous years, with financing from the Pears Foundation of the UK. The foundation provides annual scholarships for African students at the school in order to "build a network of scholars in the developing world who benefit from academic expertise in Israel and transfer that expertise towards development efforts in their home countries," according to Trevor Pears, executive chairman of the Pears Foundation. “The master of public health program at the Braun School gave me the opportunity to have the necessary tools to do my job,” said Dr. Olusola Bukola, 35, an MD who is the head of monitoring and evaluation of the national malaria control program in Nigeria. She particularly cites the training she received at the Hebrew University in epidemiology, for example, as being of great help to her in trying to cope with the widespread scourge of malaria in her home country – a disease particularly lethal to children and pregnant women. Dr. Bukola made the trip to Israel with her six-month-old son and had to manage her schedule carefully in order to continue nursing him. Having her younger sister along to watch the baby was a big help in enabling her to attend the workshop sessions, she said. Another high-ranking official participating in the workshop and symposium program was Dr. Norbert Rakiro, 36, of Kenya, who is the senior health officer of the International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Eastern Africa Zone Office, covering 14 countries. He is responsible for providing technical support for program implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and best-practice documentation development. The areas coped with include public health emergencies, immunization programs, malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS “The tools that I acquired in my studies at the Hebrew University included how to assess health situations, how to utilize data to design, implement and evaluate programs, and how to create preventive initiatives that will create public feedback,” he said. “It is important is to create programs in a way that will get people to take preventive actions before getting to the state of curative medicine,” Dr. Rakiro said. Among the problems that have to be coped with in his region are malaria, yellow fever, meningitis, water-borne diseases and polio. Dr. Rakiro said he hoped that workshops and symposia like those just held at the Hebrew University could be held more often since they are valuable in providing updates and exchange of information among those in the field. Another participant in the Pears alumni get-together was Comfort Suku, a pharmacist who is the principal regulatory officer with the National Pharmaco-Vigilance Center of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control in Nigeria. She also pointed out the value of the knowledge that she gained while studying at the Hebrew University. “I acquired information in epidemiology and biostatistics which are essential in every field of health care management,” she emphasized. The international master of public health program was established at the Hebrew University in 1971 in coordination with the Center for International Cooperation of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It now has over 700 graduates from 90 countries in developing and transition regions, as well as from developed countries. According to program director Dr. Yehuda Neumark, "Our graduates take up key positions as public health leaders and teachers and make important contributions to the health of the people in their countries and beyond."

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