The apprentice centre that has turned into a science hub education

At the moment, no one knows what medical innovations will be effected to contain the Ebola virus in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria.

However, epidemics of this nature are not a new occurrence in Africa. In 1929 when Uganda was hit by epidemics of sleeping sickness, malaria and syphilis, that claimed many lives, health personnel in the then Health Department (the colonial government’s equivalent of ministry of health) sought a solution.

The outbreak compounded the already puzzling population dynamics. The death rate was higher than the birth rate, so technocrats in the department sought ways to arrest the situation.

To them, the epidemic outbreak would impede the country’s human and technical capacity to respond to health hazards. With the exception of faith founded hospitals in the country such as Rubaga hospital, established by the White Fathers in 1899, and Nsambya hospital, founded by the Little Sisters of St Francis in 1903, that provided ing healthcare but the colonial government did not have a training facility of its own. Yet there was need for trained local healthcare personnel. Dr Tarton, a bacteriologist at the Health Department was assigned the task of training Ugandans.

Pursuing the dream
The training would focus on allied health sciences. This is the background against which Mulago Paramedical School was born. In 2012, the school was renamed to become Uganda Institute of Allied Health and Management Sciences.
According to the Organisation of International Chief Health Professions Officers (ICHPO), allied health professions are a distinct group of health professionals who apply their expertise to prevent disease transmission, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate people.
Under the stewardship of Dr Tarton, the school was able to train medical laboratory technicians first, so as to contain the epidemics that had plagued the country.
They went on to train sanitary overseers or environmental health officers as they are known today, and medical dispensers or pharmacy technicians.

The school started as an apprenticeship centre. There were no facilities like classrooms, so instructors would take students to the department’s laboratory as they worked and in the process pass on the crucial skills and knowledge to the students.

There was no curriculum as everything was hands-on. And as such, there was no course duration. This practice went on through the 1930s. The instructors also determined when their students were competent enough to practice under their (instructors’) supervision before working independently.
Gradually, through the 1940s and 1950s, the training became more formal and by the 1960s, there was a structure for training in allied health sciences.

Seeking professionalism
But even then, the school lacked formal management structure that was until 1980 when the late Lawrence Anewa P’Akera was appointed its first director. At the time, the school had registered 300 students.

P’Akera was the principal assistant secretary in the office of the president. He served the institution for two years and was replaced by Arari Omoja in 1982.
Omoja managed the school up to 1986 and in 1987 the late Bernard Opio replaced him. Opio took over the reins of power up to 1994 when Dr Wilson Rwandembo Mugisha took over as the school’s principal.

Rwandembo, 61, a tall, light-skinned man with grey hair, has been at the helm of the institution’s leadership for the last 20 years. “It has been a journey that was inspired by an outbreak of an epidemic,” he says.

In 1994, the institution had 350 students enrolled for seven courses. These included medical laboratory technology, radiology, anaesthesia, orthopaedics, dental, dispensing and entomology. Twenty years later, there are 1,700 students enrolled in 21 certificate and diploma courses.

What started as an apprenticeship centre in 1929 is turning into a fully-fledged academic hub that is in aanced plans of setting up sciences degree programmes. The facility is only awaiting accreditation from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).

On Mulago Hill where the school is located, a two-storeyed building that will house the 12 teaching laboratories is under construction. “We are following up on the pledge by government through the Minister of Education Jessica Alupo, to donate medical equipment worth Shs1.8b and the president’s promise to build a girls’ hostel,” stated Rwandembo. It is hoped that this will boost the female student population at the institute.

Attracting the girl child to sciences
Rwandembo said girls have lesser appetite for allied health sciences. However, of the 1,700 students at the school, only 20 per cent are female. Management believes setting up a hostel for female students will boost female students’ enrolment at the institute.

Currently, male students especially those from upcountry are accommodated in the school’s hostel. But that notwithstanding, the school has made partnerships with other institutions such as the University of Western Cape and the National University of Rwanda to share expertise for students exchange programmes.

It is hoped that if Uganda continues to produce several health workers, they will not only respond to epidemic outbreaks but effectively manage the ailing health system.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor