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Institutionalization of Multi-disciplinary Experiential Learning approach at Makerere University gets a Nod from University Stakeholders

Today we are faced with complex health challenges such as; epidemics, climate change, air pollution, environmental contaminants, antimicrobial resistance, food safety and dietary health risks etc. These health challenges have severe consequences including human deaths, economic and development. Important to note that the major determinants of health fall outside the health sector.

Increasingly, it is getting clearer that solving complex health problems requires multidisciplinary, multisectoral expertise and cooperation i.e. One Health approach. The approach holds a lot of promise in mitigating public health threats. It is has been embraced globally by: World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) as a strategy for promoting the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines, working locally, nationally and globally, to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. In addition, a report of the commission on the education of health professional for twenty-first century has recommended for a redesign of education systems to better match the population needs and to produce a workforce that can meet complex health challenges. A workforce that is oriented to work and appreciate multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach as opposed to working in siloes. It is the mandate of the University to produce that graduate (future workforce) who has the One Health Competencies and is able to transform communities.

The Government of the Republic of Uganda, using the National One Health Platform has designed a One Health Strategic Plan to work as a guiding document for the integration of One Health in government sectors and business. This is the cue for universities to start thinking about re-aligning their training approaches and programs to these processes that are likely to affect the responses of labour markets to the products from the universities.
A report of the Commission on the Education of Health Professionals for the twenty-first century has recommended for a redesign of education systems to better match the population needs and to produce a workforce that can meet complex health challenges. Currently, Makerere and most universities in Africa are largely engaged in discipline-based education.
Initiatives to multidisciplinary education, are limited within the scope of broader domains like the health sciences. Under the College of Health Sciences, for instance, students of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and dentistry, are teamed up for their Community Based Education, Research and Service (COBERS) placement, which enhances their learning within the health sciences.
However, the current and emerging complex health challenges require pooling together of different and relevant disciplines to respond to and address. This has got to start at a training stage to impart the necessary competences and build the right attitude.
Organization of delivery of especially teaching and learning at Makerere University is hinged on college-based time tables which causes challenges in bringing together students from different units and colleges to learn together in a multidisciplinary arrangement.
Adopting a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning, research and innovation and service to community is the way to go. The approach has been tried and tested by a few colleges working together but under donor-funded support. By taking this direction Makerere University will be joining other universities around the world that are already taking on the approach, developing human capital that adds value to the communities where they work. This will make Makerere University more responsive to changing global, regional and national capacity needs and will be in sync with national policy directions.

One day workshop was held on the 17th July, 2018 at Makerere University Main Building, where a multi-disciplinary team convened. The objective of the workshop was to explore the relevancy of mainstreaming interdisciplinary approach in the University mandate (i.e teaching, research and community service) and provide recommendations on how to implement it. The workshop participants were principals and deans or their representatives from the different colleges in the University including CHS, COVAB, CHUSS, COBAMS, CAES, CoCIS, COVAB, CEES- with some having idea about One Health while others didn’t have. Presentations orientating workshop participants in One Health, experiences in One Health in action in controlling epidemics (with examples form the ebola epidemic in West Africa, Plague epidemic in Madagascar and Uganda) and case studies of interdisciplinary training were shared.

The workshop was formally opened by the University Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Professor Ernest Okello Ogwang who noted that by taking this step, Makerere University is not out of step with other universities globally, that are taking the same direction. He noted that the workshop was a platform for stakeholders to discuss how to institutionalise One Health in student teaching and practical training at Makerere University. He then thanked OHCEA for undertaking the implementation of the One Health approach at Makerere University and providing space for moving to the next step of institutionalization.

Professor john David Kabasa, Principal College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity delivering a presentation on role of Higher Education institutions like Makerere University in revolutionalising education
Professor John David Kabasa, Principal College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity delivering a presentation on the role of Higher Education institutions like Makerere University in revolutionalizing education

Two case studies in interdisciplinary/One Health training were shared and these were; the One Health Institute run under Makerere University by the OHCEA/OHWF project and the multidisciplinary-community engagement in Mbarara University.

The workshop participants were grouped in two multi-disciplinary teams and engaged in group discussions- soliciting for views on how One health or inter-disciplinary training can be implemented in Makerere University. The guiding questions for the discussions included; i) How relevant is the OH Approach in Makerere university’s mandate (teaching, research and community service); ii) How can the OH approach in teaching, research and community service be implemented; iii) What are the existing opportunities that the OH Approach can build on e.g. the attachments, cross cutting teaching, iv) Any challenges foreseen and suggested mitigation measures. Each group gave feedback on what they discussed in the group and thereafter a general discussion concretizing on the recommendations from the workshop.

 Workshop participants working in small groups during the inception workshop
Workshop participants working in small groups during the inception workshop

Results
Generally, participants felt that it was necessary to mainstream inter-disciplinary approach in training, research and community service in Makerere University as was seen as being very relevant because of the following reasons;

Characteristics of the multidisciplinary experiential learning approach:

Makerere University needs to adopt an approach that allows for the following principles:
● Multidisciplinary problem solving - students and faculty from their respective different disciplines bring their core competencies and knowledge to offer joint solutions to identified community problems/ challenges/ issues. In addition to Science (S), Technology (T) and Innovations (I), incorporate aspects of partnerships (p), Industry (I) and/ or business (B)
Market oriented - adopt a business approach/ model that generates valuable products. Students from different disciplines and institutions engage in innovations for value creation. Student outputs are potential university products which are marketable. If well organized, these innovations can contribute a stream of financial resources to support the interventions.
Demand driven - engage in developing innovative solutions for community challenges that are identified by and from the community.
● Creating value – innovations generated to the market. Student products will be university products
● Cultural sensitivities - must take into account community/societal beliefs, values, practices.
● Partnership building – that are multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral and multi-college/ multi-institution in nature, which clearly defines roles for each institution to play.
● Providing cross-sectoral competencies

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