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In Kony’s Shadows: Faith Atai Emerges School of Public Health’s Best Student

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By Davidson Ndyabahika & Brenda Namata

Despite her troubling background, Ms. Faith Atai, 33, has emerged as the overall best student for Makerere University School of Public Health’s Bachelors of Environmental Health Science.

Ms. Atai, will, during Makerere University‘s 71st graduation ceremony this year walk away with a First-Class Honors with a CGPA of 4.46. She becomes MakSPH best student, according to Ms. Gladys Khamili, the School of Public Health’s Registrar. This also makes her qualify for a Vice Chancellor’s list, of the best students in the University.

Born to Naume Ariimi and Ebwaat Jonathan, a firstborn and the only child from a father, she lost before birth.

Her mother, Ariimi, an enrolled nurse at Asamuk HCIII, in the Amuria district struggled to raise her single-handedly since her birth in November 1988.

“My mother being a single parent needed to fully work to provide for the family, I had to grow up with my grandmother Atai Faith Odongo, in Telamot village, Omugenya parish, Gweri Sub County in Soroti District,” she recounts.

Growing up in a rural setting, Atai engaged in several home chores but that did not disrupt her focus in School. She went to Jameler Primary School for her early education, until she sat her Primary Leaving Examination in 2001, at the age of 13. It was here that she became a Health Prefect.

“I would wake up as early as 4:00 AM to do home chores (wash utensils, sweep the compound and leave beans set on fire) and be at school 6:00 AM,” Atai recalls. 

She would later, in 2002, join Ngora High School in Kumi district for Secondary education, some 50kilometers from her home district.

In 2003, the LRA rebels entered Teso, in eastern Uganda, Atai was in Senior three, and learning processes in all schools in the region were suspended for over a month. During this period, Atai recalls she stayed with her grandmother but under tense moments.

“Our movements were restricted. You would hear the open fire in the neighborhood and that whole time we were confined at home; you would pray to be alive the next day. I remember hiding under the bed always. Amidst fire exchanges, I was still optimistic about School,” she says.

Upon returning to School, Atai concentrated and completed O’ Level, scoring 23 aggregates in 2005. With this performance, her dream of becoming a lawyer was in sight. However, in 2006 when she joined Nabumali High School for her Advanced Level of education she was inspired to offer Science subjects. Here, she took Biology, Chemistry, Geography, and Agriculture but she says School fees was a major hurdle that kept her in and out of school.

“The environment was not friendly after I switched from my former school. I faced a lot of challenges in accessing school fees. This affected me both emotionally and academically. Catching up with the rest of the students. Sometimes I would take two weeks at home as my mother looked for fees and I would only return to school whenever money would be available,” Atai recounts.

Adding that; “My A level results were very disappointing. I got 5points in BCG/A. I was taken up by sports also. I thought of repeating the class. However, one of my maternal uncles who happened to have done Environmental Health Science for a career advised me to enroll at Mbale School of Hygiene for the same course.”

She enrolled for a certificate course in Environmental Health Science at Mbale School of Hygiene in 2008 and completed it in 2010.  

Her desire and passion to challenge her background inspired her to enroll for a diploma. But her mother’s health had begun to deteriorate and this forced her to look for work.

At the time, Soroti Municipal Council had advertised for a health assistant job, which she applied for and got in 2013. But she wasn’t contented with a certificate alone.

“Conditions at work were not favorable. I asked if I could get a study leave as I continue to work. I had applied for a Diploma Course at Mbale School of Hygiene but I could not join because I was denied permission. But my immediate supervisor stepped in for me and would fill the gap when I enrolled the next year,” she says.

Despite the divided attention, Atai managed to enroll for her Diploma in 2014-2016 where she left a mark, as the best student.

Joining the School of Public Health at Makerere University

Atai Faith
Atai Faith, Bachelor of Bachelor of Environmental Health Science, MakSPH

As she pursued her diploma program, Abel Walekhwa, then a student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Health Science at Makerere School of Public Health visited Mbale School of Hygiene where he extended a career talk to the students. It is here that Ms. Atai inspired, felt she was closer to fulfilling her dream.

“I got his contact and further engaged him. He told me that I would still join Makerere University after my Diploma.  I goaled towards applying for the same program at MakSPH in 2017. Luckily, I was admitted on government sponsorship Diploma Entry,” says Atai.

According to Faith, having a social life does not deter a student from being an academic genius. In addition to reading books, Atai loved leadership and student politics as well as the church. She was a General Secretary to MUEHSA, an association that unites undergraduate students at the School of Public Health, Makerere University. She spearheaded discussion groups and indulged in all school projects. This was in addition to reading and holding discussions and consulting her lecturers.

Asked about what she felt when she was told she was the best student, Atai said it was an honorable thing to find she had topped the class.

“When I received a phone call about this, I cried with tears of joy, prayed, and thanked God for the journey this far. My mother was equally overwhelmed with joy,” Atai says.

COVID-19 and Studies

Since March 2020, schools and education institutions in Uganda were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of closure, Atai and her colleagues were anticipating completing their course on time.

One would have equally thought that this abrupt closure would affect her performance in the final semester examinations. “I didn’t abandon the need to keep in the books as I read, researched in hope of resumption soon,” she says.

The lockdown set in when she had conceived and her expected date of delivery was 15th October 2020, a time School was to resume for final students.

“It was hard for me as I had to do zoom lectures that were ineffective, approached exams and yet a first-time mother with a newly born baby. I had thoughts of a dead year however resolved to carry my 1week and 3days old baby to Kampala to finish my studies,” she recalls.

A first-class honors & What It takes

Faith says a first-class degree is attainable if, as a student, one knows what they want. She adds that it takes being committed, time management, and the right attitude.

“Good grades are attainable. As a student, there are a few values that you should work on; self-esteem, commitment, time management, and teamwork. I want to especially thank my classmates for their moral support, encouragement, and contribution to my success in this program,” Atai says.

Atai has also hailed the MakSPH administration for supporting her through her studies.

I thank the selfless and committed team at School. Thank you for putting everything in place for a convenient learning environment. The lecturers have been so supportive to me and my classmates. Am grateful for the mentorship I have received especially from the Department of Disease Control and Environmental Health,” she says.

The Lord’s Resistance Army’s (LRA) reigned in Uganda between 1987 and 2006, spreading terror through the country’s northern-most region.

The group, now believed to operate in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, pursued its vision of a new state based on his interpretation of the Ten Commandments combined with local Acholi traditions.

Although it is not known how many people were mutilated by the guerrilla group, but at least 20,000 children were abducted and more than 1.9 million people forced to leave their homes. Atai could have fallen into the LRA trap at a tender age she recounts, but she survived.

Article originally published by MakSPH

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Understanding & Preventing Drowning in Uganda

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Cover page of the "Understanding and Preventing Drowning in Uganda" Report 2020 by the Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH).

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death; accounting for 7% of all injuries. Over 90% of the estimated 322,000 annual global drowning deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries. Although the burden of drowning is believed to be highest in the WHO-African region, data
collection and surveillance for drowning in African countries is limited. Drowning prevention strategies require adequate data on the burden and circumstances of drowning to help ensure data-driven prevention efforts. The World Health Organization recommends that all countries take steps to improve drowning data so that prevention strategies can be context-specific.

This report presents findings of a two-phased study that was conducted in 60 districts of Uganda for a period of 2.5 years (from January 1st, 2016 to June 30th, 2018). In the first phase, records concerning 1,435 drowning cases were found in the 60 study districts. Other than stating that the individual had drowned, there was very little information that could potentially guide prevention efforts.

The second phase was limited to only 14 of the initial 60 districts. In the 14 districts, a total of 2,066 drowning cases were identified by community health workers and confirmed through individual interviews with witnesses/family members/friends and survivors of drowning. Most (1,332; 64%) of these were deaths. Using the community approach, as opposed to official records, revealed more than three times the number of drowning deaths in the same 14 districts. Almost half of all people who drowned were engaged in an occupational activity at the time of the incident.

These results show that drowning is a major cause of premature death in Uganda, especially among young adults whose livelihoods depend on water activities. However, most drownings are preventable through policies and regulations that reduce exposure to drowning risk, and institution of interventions to ensure safety around water. Drowning is a multisectoral issue, and all stakeholders (local and national government, water transport, water sport, education, fishing, health, and law enforcement) should coordinate to develop a national water safety strategy and action plan. The strategy could address matters of leadership coordination, funding, advocacy, awareness raising, prioritization, target setting, and monitoring and evaluation.

Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze,
Professor & Dean, School of Public Health, Makerere University

Please Downloads for the full report.

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Call for Applications: Leadership and Management in Global Health

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The Gardens at the College of Health Sciences (CHS), Mulago Campus, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda

Makerere University Lung Institute through its NIH funded Non-Communicable Diseases Research training program #D43TW011401 aims to develop capacity for researchers to lead and manage NCD research programs in Uganda. As part of the program the Institute will sponsor participants with interest in NCD research to undertake a Leadership and Management in Global Health course with the University of Washington.  This course provides practical leadership and management skills that are required for working in complex local, regional, national, and global health environments.

How to Apply:

  1. Create an eDGH account: go to https://edgh.washington.edu, select ‘Log in’ on the top right, and then ‘Create a new account’. This will allow you to apply to the course and the account will keep track of your application and data
  2. Once you have created your account, go to  https://edgh.washington.edu/courses/participant-application
  3. Select the “Site-Based Participant” option when applying and select your site as “Uganda Kampala Makerere University Lung Institute” from the list on the application:
    1. Note: You may be asked if you understand that you may be responsible to contribute to site fees – select yes, but please note that there will be no cost to you for taking this course with our group.
    2. You will receive a confirmation email once you have submitted your application.

Application Deadline: 19th August, 2021.

Contact Information:

Dr. Charles Batte
Program Manager,
Makerere University Non-Communicable Diseases Training Program (MakNCD)
Email: dr.cbatte[at]gmail.com | makncd.chs[at]mak.ac.ug
Tel: +256700800618

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MakSPH Position: Program Officer – Uganda DDP for WH

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Job Advert: Program Officer Position - Uganda Data Driven Policy Initiative for Women’s Health, MakSPH.

Makerere University School of Public Health (Department of Community Health and Behavioural Sciences) in collaboration with Vital Strategies is looking for a Program Officer for an exciting new program to reduce maternal mortality in Uganda.

Vital Strategies also promotes public health programs that include road safety, mental health, and activities to strengthen public health data systems and the use of public health data to guide policy and decision-making in Uganda.

About the Program

Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) with funding from Vital Strategies will implement a program to promote women’s health by address leading causes of morbidity and mortality. This program under the name Data-Driven Policy Initiative to Improve Women’s Health (DDP for WH) aims to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality resulting from unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and complications of pregnancy and childbirth in Uganda. Other countries where this project is being implemented are Bangladesh and Rwanda.

The program officer will work closely with ministry of health to strengthen capacity to collect, analyze and apply data to develop evidence-based policies. This Initiative applies a data-to-policy model to support improved access to, and surveillance of, family planning, contraceptives, abortion care, and other sexual and reproductive health services. The program complements existing efforts in Uganda and leverages Vital Strategies’ expertise in health data, epidemiology, surveillance, health policy and public health law, and strategic communication and advocacy.

The program’s theory of change is based on the assumption that clear and compelling data and evidence, along with effective advocacy, is fundamental to create meaningful and impactful policy and program improvements. Anchoring the first-year activities in building capacity and understanding in the data and its gaps will serve as the basis for policy analysis and development. Also through support and partnership with others currently working in this space, will complement ongoing advocacy and communications, and implementation efforts in the initial year and beyond.

The Position

This is a two-year, grant funded position but may extend for additional years. The Program Officer will be responsible for supporting Uganda-specific program results. S/he will serve as a subject matter expert in epidemiology/health data/Health Management Information Systems and will guide and provide technical support to Ministry of Health (MoH) of Uganda counterparts. The program officer will report to the Principal Investigator at the MakSPH. Progress will be discussed with Program Director based at Vital Strategies, the MoH and the Kampala based Investigators. The primary responsibilities of this position will be to ensure that the implementation of Initiative-activities in Uganda are country-owned and country-driven, technically sound and sustainable. They should also be in line with program goals and objectives, best practice standards, approved work plans, and budgets. S/he will ensure that Initiative activities are continuously monitored, and that implementation obstacles are identified and reported in a timely manner.

This position requires expertise and experience in the technical dimensions of this work, i.e., reproductive and sexual health, familiarity with sources and analytic approaches for data related to reproductive health, safe abortion and post-abortion care, and the use of data for policymaking and program management. The officer will be embedded in the Ministry of Health and MakSPH with dual accountability to MakSPH and Vital Strategies.

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Term of Service

Initial consultant contract will be 12 months and may be renewed, subject to satisfactory performance. A three-month probationary period will apply.

How to Apply

Please submit your application, a CV including salary expectations to the Dean, MakSPH via the link below.

Application link: https://forms.gle/w5GPpqTCVgftQJvFA

The deadline for applications is August 6th 2021. Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.

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