PRIVILEGED TO HAVE BEEN PART OF MAKERERE UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

Frank Gramsen Kizza

The morning came just as fast as the night had. I woke up thinking of how this day would go: the first day at the School of Public Health Makerere University (MakSPH). The campus excitement had worn off already since I had not gotten the course-Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery-which I had wanted to pursue. After a lot of unsuccessful attempts to change course, I had to settle for this course – Bachelor of Environmental Health Science, one I knew little about. It was a course that no one could actually give me a clear picture about. However, I still had hope, that maybe one day I will change to the course of my choice. As all these thoughts ran through my head, I remembered that I had to attend a freshman’s orientation at the College of Health Sciences at 8am in the Davis Lecture Theater. At the freshman orientation, I managed to find some three old friends despite the fact that these were in different schools. After about one hour into the orientation an announcement was made that Environmental Health students were to go the School of Public Health in Room 317.

This was a relief in some kind of way so I left the room set for my next destination. Unlike the previous auditorium full of people, the room was occupied by only five male individuals. I also discovered that no one in the room knew a thing about what was happening; all they knew was that they were supposed to be in this room. As time passed a few more individuals joined us. Some continuing students came in, welcoming us to the school and to the course. Most of those introduced themselves as student leaders majority being from the students association, Makerere University Environmental Health Students’ Association (MUEHSA). We were asked if we had chosen a Class Representative.  The answer was an automatic NO. We had no idea who the person was and what they were supposed to do. After explaining to us, I gave it some thought and I decided to volunteer as it would help me get first-hand information about what was happening at the school and I hoped it would enable me better choose my career path. Finally – a lecturer, Mrs. Ruth Mubeezi come to orient us and to introduce the first course unit; Human environment. Incidentally, she was the patron of MUEHSA and she gave us a brief mind-blowing insight as to what we could accomplish as Environmental Health Scientists. This was through sharing some of the success stories of public health research work, health interventions and published papers. She then told us to check out all the public health journals so that we can familiarize ourselves with what environmental health was all about. Her passion about environmental health drew me in. Day by day, things got better as I got a clearer picture of what environmental health science was about. This was through various interactions with lecturers, students and alumni who on various occasions talked to us about the course. After a month, part of me was contented to continue with the course.

Being a class representative came with a lot of benefits and challenges. It came with the extra responsibility of coordinating the class and making sure things moved on well. This also opened up opportunities that one couldn’t easily get by being just a student. Being an Environmental Health student makes one a direct member of the association, although this doesn’t guarantee students’ participation in the association activities, unless one was interested in the activity being carried out or had the love for the association. At first, I was not driven by either of the two reasons above. I was driven by the mere curiosity of getting to know more about the course I was doing.

My first MUEHSA activity was the 2015 celebration of the World Environmental Health Day that happens every 26th September. It was themed “Children Are Our Future – Let’s Protect Their Environment and Health.  This took place in Entebbe and was celebrated alongside Save Our Lives (SOS) children’s home. This celebration involved tree planting along the streets of the town council and MUEHSA members visiting the SOS children’s home. This was a great thing done by the association but to me the most interesting part of all this was during the preparations for the day. During prior discussions towards this day, there was a disagreement among the members on whether to do a cleanup activity.  The other members had protested that we should embrace the other fields of environmental health and not just focus on only one component of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). For the previous celebration, the association had focused more in the WASH area. The argument was that this was portraying an image of the course being WASH based, to the public. It was decided that we were to do something that was in relation to the theme being used worldwide for the celebrations. This was to be followed in all the coming years as a way to embrace all the other fields of environmental health sciences.

Through the 3 years as a member of MUEHSA, the environmental health day has always been celebrated with more activities being introduced to make the celebrations colorful. These include: a writing competition where students in high school and primary school write essays on a given topic in relation to the theme of the year. This was aimed at improving students’ writing skills and making them more aware of what is going on in the environment around them. The winner and the first runner-up are rewarded. I am grateful for having been the first organizing chairperson of the writing competition. The other activities that were introduced include a public lecture and radio talk shows that were aimed at increasing public awareness about environmental health.

 

If you talk about MUEHSA, one thing you can’t skip mentioning are the scientific conferences that have been organized by the association annually for 15 consecutive years. Being part of MUEHSA, you not only attend the conference but participate through the step by step preparations of the conference from setting up the theme for the conference, lobbying for funds, reviewing abstracts and the managing and directing of activities at the conference. Throughout the three years at the School of Public Health am glad to have participated in all the conferences within that time period which included the 1st Community Health Workers Symposium. All these came with different learning experiences, different opportunities and interactions with different individuals. At these conferences students get a chance to meet and share ideas with people from different areas in the field of environmental health as well as individual in other fields. Students also get inspiration from those who have been successful in the field of environmental health

Through various interactions in MUEHSA, I got a chance to meet different people of diverse interests and ideas, students with ideas to make greater changes and impacts in community health.  There are two student-founded organizations that caught my attention over the period I was at the school of public health. These were; ICHIO (Integrated Community Health Initiative Organization) and SCOFOH (Students’ Coalition for Health). These groups comprise of students with an aim of improving health within the community.  Throughout the time I was at SPH, I got an opportunity to carryout out various activities with the groups. With ICHIO, I participated in a community outreach on sanitation and hygiene in Kisenyi slum. We sensitized community members about proper hygiene practices and solid waste management. For SCOFOH, it has been more than participation; I happen to be a pioneer member through which I learnt and achieved a lot. We carried out health campaigns, the most notable of all being the SHIVA (Students’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Campaign).

Being part of MUEHSA and serving as the Vice President (2016-2017) was such an honour. The association has not only united Environmental Health students while at campus and after campus but it has continuously fought for the rights of the profession of Environmental Health Science at all levels.

 

‘For Health prevention is our Priority’.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 15TH MAKERERE UNIVERSITY ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION SCIENTIFIC ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Faith Atai and Poleen Kyakunzire
Bachelor of Environmental Health Science Students
Makerere University – School Of Public Health

More than 300 people from different Including students, Environmental and Public Health Practitioners, academicians, policy makers and the general public attended and presented their research at the 15th Makerere University Environmental Health Students’ Association (MUEHSA) Scientific annual Conference on the theme “Environmental Health: Building Resilient Communities And Contributing To the Sustainable Development Goals”. The Conference provided a platform for sharing various research works on several sub-themes including: pollution (air, water and soil); food security and safety; one health; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); environmental disasters; community health; trauma, injury and disability; technology and innovations in health. Makerere University Environmental Health Students’ Association (MUEHSA) has held this event for the last fifteen years on an annual basis.

The presentations emphasized the aspect of building resilience through sustainable disease detection and prevention approaches and innovative capacity building for households and communities; to take early actions.
The following recommendations were drawn from the conference discussions:
1. The government through the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology should promote innovative solutions that will solve environmental health problems. In addition, in order to achieve their particular objectives, these ministries need to offer a conducive working environment like favorable policies and seed funding.
2. Researchers need to provide adequate and evidence based data to policy makers in order for them to back up policy formulation and changes so that they are made from an informed point of view while addressing the rising health problems in our country.
3. Universities should promote student research and the findings should be shared with various stakeholders to ensure implementation.
4. The government and other implementing bodies need to strictly enforce the existing guidelines for use of pesticides. In addition, government should improve these guidelines in order to reduce the dosages ingested by consumers that tend to accumulate with time leading to adverse effects on health. This could also be improved by effective and efficient mass education of the public so that basic practices like washing of raw foods especially fruits are adopted.