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Bridging the doctor-patient gap in Uganda

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Kampala International University’s School of Health Sciences (SHS) is ready to mitigate Uganda’s human resources for health challenge.

By Boniface Otieno Kanyamwaya                                   

Uganda is one of the countries with the lowest doctor to patient ratios in the world.  For instance, in 2013, the doctor to patient ratio in the Country was estimated to be one doctor to 24,725 patients, with nurse to patient ratio standing at 1:11,000, which is way below the ratio of 1:1000 recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The situation is worsened by the fact that majority of the estimated 900 doctors who graduate per year from various universities offering health sciences across the country opt to look for employment abroad.

However, Kampala International University (KIU), which is one of the youngest private universities in East Africa, is out to find a solution to the acute shortage of doctors in Uganda and eventually in the East Africa region.

Prof Patrick Kyamanywa, KIU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC), says they already have a well-established School of Health Sciences (SHS) that is dedicated to training world class medics for Uganda and for the greater Eastern  Africa region.

The School of Health Sciences (SHS), the DVC says, started as Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the University’s Main Campus in Kansanga, Kampala, in 2003.

The Faculty was later relocated from the Main Campus in Kampala to the Western Campus in Ishaka-Bushenyi in 2004. This paved way for its expansion including completion of the University Teaching Hospital and introduction of new courses. Prof Kyamanywa says they have since introduced courses such as Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery; Bachelor and Diploma in Biomedical Laboratory Sciences, Diplomas in Clinical Medicine; Bachelor of Pharmacy, Bachelor of Nursing Sciences, and Diploma in Nursing Sciences.

Other programmes offered by the university include Bachelor of Education, Business Management and Information Technology (IT).

With the expansion, FHS was renamed SHS, which is currently being developed to become the leading institution in training health professionals, especially in the areas of preventive and curative medicine.

The DVC says as at 2013, the relatively new campus had enrolled over 5,000 students in its various programmes and had academic staff strength of about 400. In 2015 alone they admitted about 1,250 students in the School of Health Sciences.

“We are looking forward to double this number by October 2017 with the introduction of more courses and expansion of our teaching facilities,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

The institution has attracted students from as far as West Africa and Southern Africa. “Some of them are from Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, Zambia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Togo, and Malawi, just to mention a few,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

Unlike other institutions offering similar trainings in the region, the DVC says their SHS boasts of fully furnished lecture rooms, well equipped computer laboratories, state of the art medical laboratories — built to international standards, a teaching hospital, students’ accommodation, dining facilities, and recreation halls.

“The courses are taught by full time adjunct faculty of over 150 experienced academic staff who are currently working in their fields of expertise,” says Prof Kyamanywa. “All the clinically qualified academic staffs also serve as consultants to the University’s Teaching Hospital.”

They also have a well equipped library, which is dedicated to furthering KIU’s mission and vision by providing information resources, services, and infrastructure that create, facilitate, and sustain an intuitive, trusted information environment enabling learning and the advancement of knowledge at the university.

Additionally, SHS has a multi-disciplinary laboratory used routinely by the students during practical sessions. The School also has specialised laboratories for Gross Anatomy and Histology; Microbiology and Parasitology; Biochemistry and Pharmacology; Molecular Biology; and Diagnostics.

Evidently, SHS  stands in good stead — in terms of infrastructure, facilities and personnel, to produce enough physicians and contribute significantly towards bridging the doctor-patient gap, one of the biggest challenges facing the region’s health sector.

Prof Patrick Kyamanywa,KIU's Deputy Vice Chancellor, Western Campus
Prof Patrick Kyamanywa,KIU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Western Campus

Obstacles are inevitable

Just like any other young institution, and despite the major milestones and numerous achievements made over the past few years, SHS has also had its own share of challenges.

For instance, the high cost of training for health sciences is an issue of concern to them. “The cost of training for health sciences is very high. Students tend to drop out mainly because they come from humble backgrounds,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

Secondly, attracting and retaining competent trainers is also proving to be tough for the institution, especially because they are very few in the market and competition is fierce.

“The government should do more to support health care education in Uganda,for instance by providing funding for research to less the wage bill, especially for the private institutions,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

According to the KIU’s DVC, a huge chunk of government funding goes to public institutions, however as key players in development, private institutions of higher learning should also be supported.

“There seems to be a misconception that private universities return profits to shareholders, but this is not the case,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

In his view, the contributions of private universities in the higher education sector cannot be overlooked. Therefore they deserve fair treatment and a lot of support from the governments including exemption of expatriate academic staff from duties, tax exemptions on imported teaching and learning equipment among others.

“Our staffs and students pay taxes, which go towards the scholarships offered to students in public institutions. We deserve a share of that money,” says Kyamanywa.

Embracing e-learning

Going forward, the DVC says they plan to embark on modern innovative approaches to teaching; learning and assessment as they have already started developing an online platform that will help them deliver their content and move into a blended learning approach in the health sciences training.

 

 

The e-learning platform, he says, will enable students contribute to what they are taught and be able to access materials wherever they are.

“Our goal is to empower students to take responsibility for their learning. The faculties will become more of facilitators of learning than teachers,” says Prof Kyamanywa.

The Institution also plans to expose its students to other e-learning platforms including linking its teaching sites through video conferencing technology.

“We have already entered into a public-private partnership (PPP) with the Ministry of Health to use regional referral hospitals as one of our teaching sites,” says the DVC, adding that they are already working with a number of other health institutions, including  Hoima, Fort Portal, Mubende, Kiryandogo, Itojo, Kabwohe, and Kitagata.

This arrangement, the DVC says, will give their students the needed exposure for more practical experiences.

“We are also putting up a reward scheme for staff who can publish alongside a research directorate to handle postgraduate studies,” says Kyamanywa.

 

 

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