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University of Rwanda Concludes Global One Health Competition.

University of Rwanda has for the second year running held the Global Health Case Competition. Global Health Case Competition presents an opportunity for multidisciplinary students to collaboratively work together to develop innovative solutions to health challenges. Unlike the previous year when competitions were held at campus level only, this year’s competition was held at both campus and University levels. The best team from each campus was selected to compete at the University level. The University level competitions were held on March 17, 2018 at Golden Tulip Hotel in Bugusera. The students under the umbrella of the Students One Health Innovations Club (SOHIC) were from Huye, Nyagatare, Remera and Rwamagana campuses of University of Rwanda.

Rwanda started conducting Global Health Case Competitions in year 3 of the One Health Workforce project and were the pioneers among OHCEA countries. Other countries that have organized case competitions include Kenya and Ethiopia.  There is a call to have regional competitions where OHCEA partner countries would compete at a regional level.

The competition at University level was based on a case study of Q fever outbreak that started from cattle imported from a neighbouring country. This disease was affecting both domestic animals and humans. Students were required to develop innovative One Health interventions and elaborate how they would engage stakeholders in the intervention. The interventions were expected to support prevention, detection and response to the disease. Participants were also required to include timelines and budgets in their projects.

The scores were based on presentation delivery, analysis of the problem / challenge, content of recommendations, and response to questions. Each team made a 20 minute presentation of their innovations followed by 12 minutes of questions from the judges. The team of judges included representatives from Rwanda’s National Reference Lab, PREDICT project, University of Minnesota, Independent Consultant, and  Dean – University of Rwanda Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. To ensure that there is no bias in judging students, mentors and faculty from competing campuses were excluded from the judges.

 Unlike the first case competition where the Rwanda team heavily depended on University of Minnesota for technical support, this time much of the work was dependent on local capacity that has already been built. The activities of the Global Health Case Competition were centrally coordinated by the SOHIC Activity Lead Mr. Adolphe Atuheire. This ensured that uniform messages were sent across all campuses and at the same time.  Dr. Robert Kibuuka one of the OHCEA Focal Persons noted “Basing on the experience we got while implementing our maiden Global Health Case Competitions, this time we didn’t have much support from UMN. We developed the case studies and implemented the whole range of sub-activities without getting technical support. Adolphe is now the SOHIC activity lead and he coordinates all the activities and shares all the communication. We had coordinators and faculty at different campuses who were mobilising students plus our former contestants also supported in mentorships. Former contestants were not allowed to contestant this time round. What added value was that the current contestants had trust in former contestants since they went through the same experience.”

After all teams had presented, judges gave general feedback to the participants. Judges commended all teams for the innovations they proposed noting that they had a potential for creating impact in the community. It is against this background that the one of the judges, Dr. Emil Ivan from Rwanda’s National Reference Laboratory remarked “These students will in future be better than us”.

It was however observed that most of the teams elaborated more on the theories forgetting the components of the solutions. Teams needed to have integrated solutions and link with stakeholders while considering the feasibility of the solutions. Additionally, judges observed that there was need to put the proposition in perspectives of established knowledge and procedures. Moreover, innovations need to be affordable to the level of the hospitals and farmers.

Students who participated in the competitions commended the competition as a great learning experience. Ms Nadine Mpinganzima the team leader for Nyagatare campus remarked:

“The best thing I have gained from this competition is knowledge and skills on zoonotic diseases. From my training in irrigation and drainage, I didn’t have much classroom knowledge on zoonotic diseases. I was impressed that this is a disease I knew but didn’t know how it is transmitted, or how to handle it. And it was very enlightening looking at the disease from a One Health perspective. The approach of working as a multidisciplinary team was very rewarding. I have been working as an individual but working as a team where students from various disciplines contribute their knowledge to the same problem was very impressive.”Another student Christine MUHOZA a second year agriculture student from Nyagatare campus was equally impressed with the value of this activity:

This exercise has helped me to gain deeper knowledge about health. Previously, I didn’t appreciate that other disciplines like mine have a contribution towards health. It is very valuable to work with various disciplines and I gained a lot of knowledge through that interaction. These competitions gave us a chance of interacting with and learn from other students who have ideas different from ours. One of the things I gained most from the competitions was is conducting research. Before the competitions, I didn’t know how to do research but now I am an expert. I have also experienced developing budgets.”

 The view that the Global Health Case Competition was beneficial to the students is also shared by the Dr. Kibuuka and Dr. Mushayija. They point out that this activity has enabled the 154 students that participated (at both campus and university levels) to gain skills on zoonotic diseases.  In addition to those who participated in the competitions, there were many more students who participated during the presentations but never competed. Students had an opportunity to listen to in-service professionals from government who are managing outbreaks.  Inspired by the students’ proposed approaches to handling the problem, the PREDICT Country Coordinator who was one of the judges, asked the Focal Person to identify one of the students from Nyagatare campus to go and work with him in the department so that he can continue mentoring him / her. Considering the benefits gained from the competition, the students noted that more students need to be exposed to similar experiences that would improve their knowledge on health.  

“Health is one thing that we all need to be aware of. We have very little awareness of what happens in our life. The information we get from such activities like this competition is very important but then it is exposed to very few students. There is need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that very many students are exposed to it. For example One Health course can be taught to all University students.” Noted Nadine.

Christine Muhoza also feels this experience should be exposed to more students. She proposes that the competing students should also include graduate students.

“One area for improvement is they should have masters students included so that they work with under graduates. Also, there is need to find a way of involving Secondary and primary students in One Health approach”.

Participating students and their mentors exhibited a very high level of commitment and dedication to the Global Health Case Competition. When asked what motivated students participation in the competition, Dr. Mushayija who was one of the mentors had this to say:

“Basing on activities OHCEA has been implementing, there is an existing view by students that whatever activities OHCEA supports are beneficial to the students. Added to this, students were motivated by the prestige of getting the trophy on top of the medals and bags. The possibility of competing at a regional level is also a big motivation for students to participate dedicatedly. Moreover, there is an opportunity of students getting out of their campuses and networking with their counterparts from other campuses or countries.”

The Focal Person acknowledged that despite the huge success of this year’s Global Health Case Competition, there were some areas that needs improvement. He proposes that development of the cases to be used during the competition, should involve government workers who are on the ground and have real hands on experience in handling health threats.  Additionally, he proposes video recording of the students’ presentations and judges’ feedback which would be used for training and mentoring students during subsequent competitions. He singled out the small budget as a limitation against involvement of many faculty especially in mentoring students.

Remera campus emerged winners of the competition followed by Nyagatare campus. The winning team received a trophy plus bags for all the team members. While handing over the trophy, Dean Martin Ntawubizi from University of Rwanda School of Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine thanked everyone for the hard work that enabled conducting the competitions successfully. He observed that all students who competed were winners noting that all teams scored above 71%. Rwamagana campus was given special recognition for making a great performance despite being very young in terms of participation in OHCEA / One Health Workforce activities. All participating students from the 4 campuses were awarded medals.

Winning teams pose with mentors and facilitators after receiving their trophies

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