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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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METS Newsletter May 2024

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The newly appointed CDC Uganda Country Director, Dr. Adetinuke Mary Boyd (7th from left) met with country implementing partner Executive Directors to get insights on ongoing projects, discussed leveraging of partnerships as well as strategizing for how best to strengthen health systems. Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI)-McKinnell Knowledge Centre, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Support (METS) Program is a 5-year CDC-supported collaboration of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Health Information Systems Program (HISP Uganda).

Highlights of the METS May 2024 Newsletter

  • Enhancing Response to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
    • Responding to and preventing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and Violence Against Children (VAC) are critical components of Uganda’s national HIV prevention program. METS developed a new app designed to improve support for SGBV survivors. This followed an assessment in December 2022, that revealed gaps in service access and coordination in Fort Portal and Kampala Regions.
    • The METS team, in collaboration with regional implementing partners, is scaling up the app’s use in pilot districts such as Masaka, Kiryandongo, Fort Portal, and Mubende. The team visited facilities and police stations to install the app and train selected focal persons on its use.
  • Assessing Readiness for Integrated HIV and NCD Care Services
    • METS supported the Ministry of Health to conduct a site readiness assessment for integrated delivery of HIV and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) services from 22nd to 26th April 2024, in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and various implementing partners. The activity was conducted in selected health facilities in Acholi, Mubende, Kayunga, and Rwenzori regions to determine their feasibility for participating in a comprehensive NCD evaluation.
    • The 48 facilities visited have already integrated NCD services (mental Health, diabetes, and hypertension). Of these, 78% have integrated mental health services in their PMTCT clinics. 40% of the facilities have a dedicated NCD services physicians /doctor in the ART Clinic, 29% have doc have dedicated physicians in the PMTCT clinics. 90%. Most of the facilities have clinical and nurses in the ART than PMTCT facilities but more nurses offering NCD services in PMTCT sites.
  • Digitalizing the health sector through strategic partnerships
    • In collaboration with CDC and METS, the MoH organized a national Electronic Medical Records (EMR) stakeholders meeting to orient stakeholders on the national EMR agenda and transition towards a comprehensive digital health facility package. Key actions discussed included expanding the rollout of the EMR and Community Health Information System (eCHIS) and urging development partners to support prioritized health information and digital health investments.
    • The introduction of electronic medical records (EMRs) in health facilities aims to improve the quality of health service delivery by providing real-time accountability transparency, and traceability of medical supplies, monitoring health worker absenteeism, enhancing patient satisfaction through efficient care provision, reducing unnecessary or duplicate diagnostic tests, and offering easy access to management reports for decision-making. Additionally, EMRs will lay the foundation for the implementation of national health insurance.
  • UgandaEMR+ Implementation Showcased at Kisenyi HCIV
    • METS and Reach Out Mbuya (ROM) showcased the implementation of UgandaEMR+ to representatives from the USG and the Ministry of Health (MoH) at Kisenyi HCIV. The visit was aimed at providing a clear understanding of the system’s functionality at the health facility, which serves over 1,200 outpatients daily and supports over 1600 clients on ART.
    • Dr. Peter Akonyera, the ART Clinic In Charge shared positive end-user experiences, noting simplified data use and analysis, efficient data retrieval, and the system’s popularity among users despite existing challenges. He appreciated METS’ support in maintaining system synchronization. The data visualization tools have been particularly useful for clinicians to manage patient schedules and workload distribution effectively, ensuring timely and efficient healthcare delivery.
  • METS Showcases Research at INTEREST 2024 Conference in Benin
    • The International Conference on HIV Treatment, Pathogenesis, and Prevention Research (INTEREST) brought together global scientists to share cutting-edge knowledge in HIV diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. The conference also aimed to build a community of African physicians and scientists to develop local solutions for managing HIV and preventing its transmission.
    • METS submitted an abstract titled “Enhancing HIV Case Identification through a National HIV Testing Services (HTS) Continuous Quality Improvement” based on support to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in designing, implementing, and evaluating initiatives to increase the identification of HIV-positive clients, crucial for achieving the global target of 95% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) knowing their status.
  • Gallery
    • New CDC Director meets Country implementing partner Executive Directors
    • UgandaEMR+ support supervision at Kisenyi HCIV visit
    • EMR Stakeholders meeting
    • CBS guidelines meeting
    • INTEREST 2024 conference – Benin
    • Key Populations assessment – Ishaka district

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SIMCS-Trial Vacancy Announcement: Twenty-Five (25) Research Assistants

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An elevated shot of the School of Health Sciences and School of Medicine Building, College of Health Sciences (CHS), Makerere University. Mulago Campus, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

Makerere University College of Health Sciences School of Medicine in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine received funding from US National Institutes of Health – Fogarty International Center to carry out a study on “Development and evaluation of an information management and communication system for population-wide point of-care infant sickle cell disease screening (SIMCS-Trial)”. The program seeks to recruit 25 research assistants at its study sites. 

Roles and responsibilities  

  • Identify and screen participants for possible enrolment into the study according to the Study Protocol.
  • Obtain informed consent from caregivers of eligible participants as per protocol accordance with GCP and HSP principles.
  • Counsel and explain study procedures to the caregivers of study participants using the mobile app.
  • Enrol eligible participants into the study to meet the study accrual targets.
  • Complete study CRFs, correctly and accurately in compliance with trial procedures/ SOPs and GCP standards.
  • Ensure study participants’ safety and privacy, data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Participate in collection of appropriate study samples/specimens from the participants as per protocol and SOPs as well as performing the test.
  • Carry out any other duties as assigned by superiors in line with your work.

Required Qualification and experience 

  • A degree in any health-related discipline, and registered with the relevant national bodies.
  • Knowledge and familiarity with Microsoft word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access as well as basic internet applications 
  • Skills in using common relevant computer packages and mobile technology for data collection
  • Previous work in a research environment is added advantage.
  • Basic knowledge of clinical research regulatory procedures. 
  • Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training and Research Ethics training skills and knowledge
  • Excellent command of English (written and oral) as well as the local languages (Luganda or Lusoga)
  • Excellent interpersonal skills to develop relationships with participants.
  • Experience of living and or working both in urban and rural environment.
  • Team-working skills to work effectively as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team 
  • Time management skills and ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • Highly organized, detail-oriented and self-motivated/driven. 
  • Ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. 
  • Ability to professionally communicate in writing, verbally or other means deemed appropriate. 

Reports to: The SIMCS Co-Investigator/SIMCS Trial Coordinator 

Expected start date: July 2024

How to apply: 1-page type written application letter addressed to the Principal Investigator SIMCS Trial MakCHS SOM together with current CV, copies of academic certificates, and recommendation letters from two past employers should be e-mailed as ONE PDF DOCUMENT to makimpact22@gmail.com

Deadline for receiving applications: Friday 20th June 2024 at 5:00 pm

Only shortlisted candidates will be invited to the interview. 

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CTCA Call for Proposals: Enhance Tobacco Control Institutional Capacity in Africa

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Call for Proposals - Project Title: Enhance Tobacco Control Institutional Capacity in Africa; Grant #339. Deadline 30th June 2024, by 5pm EAT. The Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA), School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences (CHS), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

Project Title: Enhance Tobacco Control Institutional Capacity in Africa; Grant #339

Introduction:

The Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA) received funding from the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) for the 2024-2026 to implement a project on institutional capacity. The project investments are geared towards sustaining human resource capacity and knowledge generation to reduce use of all forms of tobacco products in Africa. Specifically, the project aims to:

  1. Enhance training opportunities for African governments and relevant actors in tobacco control in
    the continent
  2. Increase access to knowledge for guiding tobacco use prevention and control in Africa
  3. Reinforce the institutional development of CTCA for an optimal performance of its functions
    and processes.

In 2020, CTCA developed a Tobacco Control Research Agenda (TCRA) with the aim of providing a guide for generating local evidence to drive tobacco control policy formulation and implementation in Africa.

Therefore, CTCA with support from ACBF is seeking researchers across the African continent to be awarded 6 small grants of USD 5000 to implement research that aligns with the TCRA thematic areas below:

  1. Patterns and trends of tobacco use and exposure for all tobacco products including the new
    products at country and regional levels (sex, age, region, types of products, new products).
  2. Effects of tobacco use and exposure on sustainable development (poverty, education, culture, food security, environment, HIV, TB, reproductive health, NCDs).
  3. Tobacco use and populations at risk (youth, young adults, women/gender, elderly, residents
    of urban areas, miltary, prisoners, mental health patients, populations in low socio-economic
    dwellings like slums).
  4. Tobacco control policy research and analysis (smoke free, TAPS, GHWs, ceasation) of cost
    effectiveness, impact, drivers, enablers, innovation, challenges, communication and advocacy
    for tobacco control.
  5. Sociocultural context of tobacco use
  6. Tobacco industry and tobacco control policy
  7. Tobacco production, alternative livelihoods and environment (distribution, value chain,
    environmental impact, historical and determinants of tobacco production)
  8. The economics of tobacco and tobacco control (product, pricing, illicit tobacco trade,
    taxation)

The full research Agenda can be accessed in English and in French.

Submissions

We are pleased to invite submissions from researchers based in Africa. Successful proposals should align with any of the 8 thematic areas of the CTCA Research Agenda. Innovative proposals that address critical issues and contribute to evidence-based policy and practice in the respective areas to inform Tobacco control in Africa are particularly encouraged.

Requirements

These grants will fund work that relates to the CTCA Research Agenda. Activities will include
proposal development, data collection and analysis, report writing and dissemination. All research to be implemented will be approved by the institutional review board and published in peer reviewed journals. These grants are intended for; 1) Researchers based in Tobacco Control Programs/Response; 2) post graduate students who would like to complete their research projects aligned to this call and 3) early and middle career researchers. It is required that this research is executed, and the report completed within 12 months. The applicant should have a mentor in an established institution.

Eligibility

Eligibility is restricted to Africa-based researchers. This refers to individuals who are (a) currently studying at a university or research institute in Africa, and/or b) currently working within a university, research institute, or in tobacco control in Africa. All persons associated with tobacco industry will not be funded and therefore should not apply. Successful applicants will be required to sign a declaration of interest that they do not have any relationship with tobacco industry.

Evaluation criteria

Proposals will be reviewed by a group of experts and researchers. Projects will be assessed against six, equally weighted evaluation criteria:

  • Knowledge contribution in respect to policy, strategy, and evidence to answer local
    challenges:
    Does the study articulate the research gap? Does study make a significant
    contribution toward advancing knowledge in the tobacco control field? Does it answer
    new questions or introduce novel methods, measures, or tobacco control interventions? Is
    it aligned to the WHO FCTC and tobacco control local context requirements? Does the
    study add to the existing body of research?
  • Policy relevance: Will results from the research have generalizable implications? How,
    if at all, will the “lessons learned” have relevance beyond the study? Will the study
    outcomes influence decisions in tobacco control?
  • Technical design: Do the methods appropriately answer the objectives and the questions
    outlined in the proposal? Is the proposed study feasible in one year?
  • Project viability: Are there any other logistical or political obstacles that might threaten
    the completion of the study, for example, government authorization or Human Subjects
    review, civil strife, social cultural sensitivity?
  • Value of research: Is the cost of the study commensurate with the value of expected
    contributions to policy? Are the planned activities justified and coherent?
  • Ethics: Reviewers will consider whether there are any risks of harm to research
    participants, what the proposed risk mitigation strategies are, and how the possible
    benefits of the research compare to the possible harms.

Application Process

Apply HERE not later than 30th June 2024, by 5pm EAT. Applicants are required to provide a
recommendation/support letter from their supervisors or heads of department.

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